Playing their third game in four days, coupled with a pair of overnight bus trips to and from New York City, left the Maine Red Claws a bit worse for wear Sunday afternoon.

They fell behind early and never caught up, losing 97-79 to the Grand Rapids Drive before a crowd of 2,302 at the Portland Expo.

Once again, turnovers and a failure to prevent offensive rebounds resulted in the Claws taking many fewer shots – 25 in total – than their opponent.

“It’s hard to win a game when the other team gets (25) more shots,” said Maine Coach Scott Morrison, whose team lost for the first time in four games but with a 22-13 record remains atop the Atlantic Division standings.

Seven of Maine’s 18 turnovers came in the opening quarter as Grand Rapids (19-17) raced to a 34-22 lead. The Drive made only five turnovers and held a 16-7 advantage in offensive rebounds.

“They’re not whole,” said Grand Rapids Coach Rex Walters, whose team beat the Red Claws for the first time in three attempts this season. “They lost a really good guard (Jalen Jones) to injury. Marcus Georges-Hunt gets the call (to the NBA’s Miami Heat). (Celtics rookie) Demetrius Jackson played in the first game against us.”

Jones missed his second straight game with a foot injury. Center Dallas Lauderdale started the game but played only 11 minutes.

Grand Rapids was also missing two of its top scorers to injury, Kevin Murphy and Jordan Crawford.

“But they did the things you have to do when you’re short-handed,” Morrison said, “which is play as a team, move the ball, not turn the ball over, rebound. They really kicked our butts on rebounding and turnovers.”

The Claws trailed by 14 at the half and by 27 midway through the third quarter but made a run late in the third and early in the fourth, holding Grand Rapids scoreless for the first three minutes of the final quarter. Still, they couldn’t cut the margin below double digits, in part because they missed 17 3-point attempts after intermission and shot a paltry 28.3 percent from deep on a season-high 46 attempts.

“We just weren’t hitting shots,” said Abdel Nader, who led Maine in scoring (19 points, tied with Ryan Kelly) and assists (six) as well as turnovers (six). “I don’t think they did anything special. I don’t think we did anything necessarily wrong. It was just one of those days.

“I don’t want to make any excuses because they’re going to fall for us. So I’m not too concerned about this loss.”

The starting backcourt of Coron Williams (11 points on 4 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 11 from beyond the arc) and Josh Hagins (no points, two assists, two turnovers) was outplayed by Drive starting guards Marcus Simmons (19 points) and Trey Freeman (18 points, eight assists), who had only one turnover between them.

“We did a good job of keeping them out of transition,” Walters said of the Claws. “They’re a downhill team, so if you can keep them from getting downhill drives, you have a chance. But they’re not whole. Let’s be honest.”

The Drive also got 15 points each from Ramon Harris and Chris Horton and sank eight of 12 3-point attempts in the first three quarters. Nader threw down a tough left-handed dunk after a spinning drive with just under eight minutes remaining to make it 89-73 but Maine would get no closer.

“I thought in the second half we did a lot of good things,” Morrison said. “We got ourselves some good looks, played some decent defense. But it wasn’t quite enough after the bad start.”

NOTES: Because of the upcoming high school basketball tournament at the Expo, the Red Claws play their next six games on the road, returning to Portland on March 9 against Westchester. … Despite the loss, Maine held its third straight opponent below 100 points. … Nader, Jones and Georges-Hunt were selected to represent Maine at the D-League All-Star Game on Saturday in New Orleans. “I’m glad it happened,” Nader said. “I worked hard. It’s nice to get some recognition.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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