Another impressive season of basketball ended Thursday night in frustration for the Maine Red Claws.

For the second year in a row, the Atlantic Division champions of the NBA Development League got swept out of the playoffs, losing by a single point on the road before dropping Game 2 of a best-of-three series at home.

“Obviously, you want to win as many games as you can, especially in the playoffs,” said head coach Scott Morrison. “But at the end of the day, we were also a victim of our own success.”

Indeed, for two years running the Claws had Tim Frazier on the roster in March but not when the playoffs begin in April. The Portland Trail Blazers called up the dynamic point guard in 2015, and this year New Orleans brought him back to the NBA.

When the Claws lost Corey Walden to an ankle injury in the first quarter Thursday night, they no longer had a true point guard on the roster and made do with a combination of Marcus Thornton, Levi Randolph, Coron Williams and Andre Stringer in a 123-117 loss to Canton.

Because the Portland Expo was booked for the 47th annual Portland Home Show, the Claws played before a crowd of 1,603 at cavernous Cross Insurance Arena, in what amounted to a neutral venue.


“But our fans came out,” Morrison said. “They were very loyal and did the best they could to support us, as they have all year. I think it’s quite clear we have the most loyal support in the league.”

With only three holdovers – Stringer, Omari Johnson and Ralph Sampson III – from the squad that went 35-15 in Morrison’s first season at the helm, the Claws started slowly (3-4 in November) and muddled along at 14-13 through January before rising to another Atlantic crown with a 31-19 record.

The four core players who spent training camp with the parent Boston Celtics – Walden, Randolph, Malcolm Miller and Coty Clarke – were not immediate hits in the D-League and needed time to adjust to each other and to Morrison’s methods.

“Their first month or six weeks of the season, they were all averaging (single-digit) points a game, really low shooting numbers,” Morrison said. “Same with our team. Our offense was near the bottom of the league. We just kept working at it. Those guys improved throughout the course of the season, and over the last two and a half months we were the No. 1 offense in the league. Unfortunately, our defense didn’t quite match up to it.”

By season’s end, the Claws finished second to Reno in offensive efficiency but 10th of 19 teams in overall defense.

“That was probably the downfall of the team, not getting enough stops,” said Celtics director of scouting Dave Lewin, who also serves as the Red Claws’ general manager.


Clarke earned a pair of 10-day contracts with the Celtics. A shoulder injury late last month knocked Miller out of the playoffs. All four players improved their stock and likely will be invited to NBA summer leagues, with careers in Europe an option if the NBA doesn’t work out.

“Any one of those four guys could be voted Most Improved Player in the league,” Morrison said. “If anything, they’ll probably split votes and hurt each other for winning that award.”

Morrison, of course, was the 2015 D-League Coach of the Year. Of the seven other coaches to win that award, six are currently in the NBA as either assistants or, in the case of Quin Snyder of Utah, as a head coach. Eric Musselman, the 2012 recipient, is a former NBA head and assistant coach currently at the helm of the University of Nevada.

“We like Scott a lot,” Lewin said. “He’s certainly going to be on the short list for a lot of NBA teams if they are looking for assistants, including the Celtics.”

Lewin said he sees a scenario under which Morrison returns to the Red Claws, particularly given the increased interest and involvement of the Celtics in their D-League affiliate. Even so, the D-League exists as a stepping stone for both players and coaches.

The Celtics also have a roster opening, with only 14 players. Lewin said he expects that to be filled within the next day or two.

“(Team president) Danny Ainge took a really hard look at our Red Claws players during the playoff series,” Lewin said. “I’m not sure any of them acquitted themselves well enough to get that spot.”

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