FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The Maine Red Claws, presented by Unum, ended a post-season losing streak four years in the making, defeating Fort Wayne in overtime Tuesday night, 110-106. The Red Claws take a 1-0 series lead on the Mad Ants, and can sweep the best-of-three series in Game 2 at the Portland Expo on Monday, April 10.
The win marked the first ever in Red Claws playoff history – Maine was 0-6 all-time in the post-season. The Red Claws lost in overtime in Fort Wayne in 2015, but tonight the tables turned in dramatic fashion.
Demetrius Jackson, on assignment from the Boston Celtics, carried Maine to victory with 30 points (9-16 FG), 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 42 minutes. He had five turnovers but did not turn it over after the first quarter. Jordan Mickey, also on assignment from the Celtics, added 26 points (12-19 FG) and 16 rebounds to go with 5 blocks. Celtics draft pick Abdel Nader added 23 points, while Jalen Jones recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Celtics first round draft pick Guerschon Yabusele added 6 points and 2 rebounds in 23 minutes.
Fort Wayne was led by NBA veteran Tyler Hansbrough, who led the Mad Ants with 29 points and 20 rebounds (10 offensive rebounds).
Nader and the Red Claws jumped out to an early 6-2 lead, with the Celtics 2nd rounder scoring two quick buckets. The teams would trade baskets, and Jones’ three-point play would help Maine to a 13-12 lead halfway through the 1st quarter. Yabusele checked into the game, and immediately grabbed an offensive rebound and put it in for two to make it a 17-16 game. The Mad Ants went on a 6-0 run to take a 22-17 lead. Arthur Edwards drained a three to stop the bleeding, but Travis Leslie answered with a three of his own. Jackson’s driving dunk made it a 25-22 Fort Wayne advantage after one.
In the 2nd, Fort Wayne extended the lead to eight points, but the Red Claws continued to stick around. Mickey made a pair of free throws to cut it to 31-28. Nader took over the game offensively, draining a three, then setting up Jones for a slam to tie the game at 37. Cameron Ayers’ three-ball gave Maine a 42-41 lead. Fort Wayne again closed the period out on a run – a 6-0 run was stopped by a Mickey jumper. Nader got to the line to make it a 49-48 game at the break. Nader scored 17 points in the first half to lead all scorers. The Red Claws shot just 25% (4-16) from downtown in the half, and turned the ball over 10 times. Fort Wayne had 11 offensive rebounds and only turned it over 3 times in the half.
Fort Wayne opened a five-point lead in the 3rd quarter. Jackson buried a three to cut it to 55-53. Hansbrough followed that up with three the hard way. Both teams traded baskets, with Jackson heating up for Maine and Hansbrough for the Mad Ants. The action was fast and furious on both ends, with both teams making a very high percentage. As the 3rd quarter drew to a close, Fort Wayne took a 79-72 lead.
Yabusele opened up the 4th quarter with a slam, and Jackson followed that up with a hoop and the foul. Just like that, it was a two point game. The Mad Ants took command after that, with Hansbrough’s tough leaner off the window making it 88-81 Fort Wayne with 8:17 to go. Nader poured in five straight points to cut it to two. Mickey’s jumper made it 90-88 with 6:00 to go, and Jackson tied the game at 90 at the 5:15 mark. Hansbrough put in an impossible three-point play – the mini 5-0 run made it 98-93 Fort Wayne. Jackson missed a three that would have tied it with 1:30 to go. Mickey made a bucket to cut it to 99-98 with a minute to go. After a huge rebound by Jones, Edwards tied the game at the free throw line – Fort Wayne’s shot was off, and the game went to overtime.
Hansbrough’s alley-oop opened up the OT period, but Mickey answered with a put back slam to tie it at 101-101. Off a broken play, Mickey’s baseline jumper gave Maine a 103-101 lead. Jackson took over – making two free throws, then throwing in a circus reverse lay-up to put Maine up 107-102. After a wild series of plays, Fort Wayne made it a two point game, but Nader and Jackson made the big free throws down the stretch to ice the game away. Maine out-scored Fort Wayne 11-7 in OT, taking its first lead of the game since 17-16.
The Red Claws shot 48% (40-83) from the field, but only 27% (7-26) from downtown, and 23-29 from the free throw line. Fort Wayne attempted 24 more shots, but only shot 42% (45-107) from the field, 16% (4-25) from beyond the arc, and 12-18 from the charity stripe.
The Red Claws will return home for Game 2 on Monday, April 10 – tip-off is set for 8 p.m. at the Portland Expo.