BY PAUL D. BOWKER
Special to the Press Herald
FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Streaking toward the basket, Boston Celtics draft pick Fab Melo reached up for teammate Shelvin Mack’s pass and in a thundering movement, slammed the ball home for two points.
The statement basket helped carry the Red Claws to a 117-112 NBA Development League victory Sunday over Fort Wayne in a game packed full of Maine highlight moments.
For the first time in franchise history, the Red Claws are 2-0 entering their home opener Friday against the LA D-fenders, the development team of the Los Angeles Lakers, at the Portland Expo. The Red Claws will wear Celtics jerseys for that game.
Mack followed up Melo’s slam with a 3-pointer. Then came a slam by Kris Joseph, followed by another basket by Melo. Just like that, the Red Claws were up by 15 points and an Allen County War Memorial Coliseum crowd of 2,229 was silenced.
“The best part is when you’ve got talented players that are playing together,” said Red Claws coach Mike Taylor. “They’re really unselfish and they’re trying to help each other. They’re making plays, they’re moving the ball, they’re taking good shots.”
Among the best Sunday was Micah Downs, a 6-foot-8 forward from Gonzaga who scored a team-high 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, just two rebounds short of the franchise record. When the Mad Ants whittled a 16-point deficit to just three in the final minute, Downs hit all four free throws in consecutive possessions to ice the game.
“Micah has been outstanding for us as a player, as a leader,” Taylor said. “He did a fantastic job with the Celtics in preseason (camp). He impressed and caught the eyes of all those guys. He came down here and we’ve had a big role for him playing from day one.”
Downs credits his teammates. And one glance at the numbers shows you why. Downs led five starters who all reached double figures in scoring. Three of them scored more than 20: Kris Joseph, a Celtics draft pick from Syracuse, scored 23 and Shelvin Mack had 22. Both Mack and Downs had a game-leading six assists. Chris Wright, a guard, had 15 rebounds.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” Downs said. “We’re moving the ball around, getting guys open, feeding the guy that is hot at the time.
“That’s the identity of our team. We have a real unselfish team. We’re going to work hard, especially our small, fast lineup out there. It’s going to give teams problems. We’re just really excited about this year.”
In the third quarter alone, when Maine moved ahead by nine points, Downs scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and had four rebounds.
“He’s just playing with a lot of confidence,” Taylor said. “He’s playing both ends of the floor. He presents a real matchup problem for the opponent because of his athleticism and length and skills. He’s had two great games to open up the season.”
Joseph, who led the Red Claws with 28 points in their season-opening 123-115 win Friday at Canton, was on fire from the beginning in Fort Wayne. He scored 10 points in the opening quarter, and finished with four assists and two steals to go with his 23 points.
Fort Wayne’s Orlando Johnson, a guard on assignment from the Indiana Pacers, scored a game-high 30 points and had a game-high four steals.