It’s hard to believe, with all the attention coming his way this winter, that the Red Claws’ ballyhooed 7-foot-5 center, Tacko Fall, had not started a single game at the Portland Expo.

That changed Thursday night.

Fall jumped center for the first time at the Expo – yes, he won the tip – and led the Claws to a resounding 122-98 G League victory over the Canton Charge before a crowd of 1,755.

He finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds and bounced back from a frightening fall that left him on the floor for a minute early in the third quarter. His only previous start had come on the road in late December.

“I was trying to dive for the ball and my hand got caught up and I fell on my shoulder,” Fall said afterward. “It does hurt a little right now, but I think it’s just a sprain.”

The victory was the fifth in six games for the Red Claws (22-8). Canton fell to 20-12.

Fall made 9 of 10 shots, all from close range, five of them dunks. He missed his only free-throw attempt, blocked one shot, was called twice for goaltending and helped the Claws enjoy a 49-30 rebounding advantage.

“He owned the game,” Red Claws Coach Darren Erman said. “He did a great job with controlling the paint and communicating our coverages, and then offensively, with being a force. If he does those things, we won’t be seeing Tacko Fall in the G League for very long.”

Carsen Edwards, on assignment from the Celtics, led all scorers with 22 points as Maine opened a double-digit lead early in the second quarter and never looked back.

“I’m just trying to hoop, man,” Edwards said, “just trying to play my game and keep my confidence, because at times I don’t play much with the Celtics. But my main focus is to be as best as I can, make the right plays, and help this team win.”

For a test between two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, the game coughed and sputtered before a flow could be established. Canton missed its first nine shots from beyond the arc. The Claws made a couple inexcusable turnovers in the backcourt.

Bryce Brown, in his first game back since injuring an ankle on Jan. 16, sparked a 19-8 run with a pair of layups. Edwards, Sheldon Jeter and Wayne Blackshear added 3-pointers and Maine took a 29-20 lead into the second quarter.

After barely touching the ball except for defensive rebounds in the early going, Fall became involved early in the second with a hook shot, a couple dunks and another hook shot.

By intermission, Fall already had racked up a dozen rebounds, including three on the offensive end, and the Claws led 55-37.

The Claws stretched their lead to 23 early in the third quarter after Tremont Waters set up Fall with an alley-oop flush. Shortly thereafter, the big man tumbled to the floor after dribbling into the corner and remained prone for a minute in obvious pain.

He eventually got up (to appreciative applause) and walked slowly to the Maine bench, clutching his left shoulder. Six minutes later, he was back in the game.

The home team’s highlight of the night that didn’t involve Fall was Brown’s no-look behind-the-back pass – after eschewing a reverse layup attempt – to Jeter in the right corner. Instead of hoisting a 3, Jeter drove baseline and threw down a ferocious dunk while being fouled. He converted the free throw to make it a 3-point play that gave the Claws a 65-46 lead.

“Right when I cut and got the ball, I saw him,” Brown said. “I tried to maneuver it up there, but I saw I didn’t have a shot. I knew he would still be in the corner. That’s kind of where you can find Sheldon.”

Malik Newman led Canton with 20 points. The Charge came no closer than 18 in the fourth quarter.

For Maine, Jaysean Paige finished with 15, Jeter and Waters each had 14, Brown 13 and Blackshear 12.

NOTES: On the sideline for the Claws were Kaiser Gates (finger), Yante Maten (ankle) and Justin Bibbs (knee). … The Red Claws hit the road for the next two weeks as high school basketball playoffs take over the Expo. Six of the next seven games are away, with the lone exception Feb. 20 against College Park (Georgia), affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks.


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