Maine Celtics Coach Blaine Mueller gave an amused smile as the cameras gathered in front of him at practice Tuesday afternoon.

“No one was interviewing us when we were .500,” he said.

Indeed, a month ago the Celtics were stuck in neutral, a .500 team that wasn’t playing to its full potential. Maine, however, found a rhythm at a perfect time, winning 10 of its final 12 games to qualify for the NBA G League playoffs for the second straight year and earn a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference.

Maine, seeded second after a 21-13 regular season, will open its championship chase against the Delaware Blue Coats at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Portland Expo (ESPNews). No. 6 Delaware beat No. 3 Indiana, 123-101 on Tuesday night.

“It’s awesome. It’s a reward for everything we’ve done,” shooting guard Drew Peterson said. “It’s a reward to all the guys and all the coaches who put in a lot of hard work over the last few months. We see it as we got out of the first round, we got a win, so we’re on to the second round.”

This situation – one of the last four teams standing, and one win away from the conference final for the second time overall and first since 2017 – seemed a long-shot back in late February, when Maine was 11-11 in the regular season following an 8-8 performance in the season-opening Showcase Cup.


The Celtics knew the league was up for grabs. They just needed a spark.

“We knew we had an opportunity, just like everybody else,” Mueller said. “As down at times as I was as a coach, just thinking about how do we get through, how do we break through and try to get over this hump, everyone was dealing with the same situation.”

Back-to-back losses to Birmingham by three total points, rather than being another example of frustration, instead proved to be the turning point. Maine walloped Westchester by 30 and took a pair of games from Wisconsin to kick-start a six-game winning streak, and shook off a bad loss to Greensboro by winning four of its last five to close out the regular season.

Mueller said that with the end of the season approaching, a sense of urgency kicked in.

“I think the collective group understood and realized the opportunity in front of them,” he said. “(It was) the recognition and realization that, no matter what, we were going to have anywhere from four to six weeks left together. … The G League’s just a different animal. Whenever our season comes to an end, it’s pretty unlikely this group will ever be together (again).

“It’s a special group of guys, a special locker room.”


The stats haven’t changed drastically – Maine averaged 110.5 points per game before the run and 114.8 points during it, and went from averaging 107 points allowed to 108.7 – but the players said the intensity has increased.

“We’ve been all-in off the court,” said point guard JD Davison, one of three two-way players between Maine and the Boston Celtics along with Peterson and center Neemias Queta. “All the guys have been locking in, buying in to what we’ve got to do to win games.”

Guard Jordan Walsh said the team has been “competing” more.

“Everybody’s had to make some type of sacrifice, whether it’s playing less minutes or not being as much of a dominant scorer, whatever it is,” he said. “Everyone could come here and take a million shots and average 30 (points) or whatever it is, but to be able to sacrifice something and win something special, that speaks more to your character.”

The team has found a formula of sharing the ball and finding balance. Davison (20.8), DJ Steward (19.4), Joe Wieskamp (16.8) and Peterson (16.1) have emerged as top scorers, while Walsh (68 points over the last three games) has shown a scoring touch as well. That depth has allowed the team to absorb a rash of late injuries and keep on winning.

The regular-season finale, during which Maine rallied from 10 points down in the fourth without Davison to beat Texas 110-109, showed the resilience that has set in.

“That fourth quarter against Texas was very emblematic of this month for us,” Mueller said. “Just a gritty, tough, gutsy win, hanging our hat on defense and finding ways to finish games.”

The Celtics are eager to keep that going in playoff time.

“This is what we worked all season for,” Wieskamp said. “The intensity’s definitely up, and guys are excited.”

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