Of the three Celtics rookies on the Maine Red Claws’ roster Sunday afternoon, only point guard Tremont Waters was available in crunch time, when a single point separated the Claws and the visiting Long Island Nets.

Waters, who sat out Friday night’s double-overtime loss in Chicago because of illness, proved up to the challenge.

From denying a dunk from an opponent a foot taller than himself to making a critical steal to driving through traffic to convert four of the final five Red Claws baskets, Waters led Maine to a 116-114 G League basketball victory before a sellout crowd of 2,417 at the Portland Expo.

“Good teams find a way to win those type of games, when you don’t play your best,” said Red Claws Coach Darren Erman. “Tremont made a couple plays when he wasn’t playing his best, and that’s important.”

The victory raised Maine’s record to 7-2 and ended a stretch of five games in four cities in nine days. Many in the crowd undoubtedly had hoped to see Tacko Fall, the 7-foot-5 Senegalese center, but treatment for a bone bruise suffered on Monday in Memphis put him in Boston Sunday.

Romeo Langford, selected 14th by the Celtics in the June draft, returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring his ankle early in the Red Claws’ home opener on Nov. 15. After a quiet first half (two points), Langford attacked the basket with impunity for much of the third quarter.

After a reverse layup through traffic in the opening minute of the fourth quarter gave the Claws a 93-86 advantage, Langford remained on the floor, clutching his lower right leg. Two teammates assisted him off the court and he did not return.

“I just came down and rolled my ankle again,” said Langford, who finished with 14 points in 17 minutes. “I’ll be fine.”

The Claws led by as many as 20 points in the first half, but Long Island (1-7) scratched back to within 13 at the half (66-53) and five after three quarters (91-86). A 3-pointer from Rodions Kurucs, a 2018 second-round pick of Brooklyn assigned to Long Island, cut Maine’s lead to 106-105 with five minutes remaining.

Enter Waters, the 5-foot-10 point guard still battling the sniffles. He had missed eight of his first 10 shots from the field and turned the ball over seven times to go along with 10 assists, but he had also made an impressive NBA debut six days earlier when he played a critical role in Boston’s 103-102 victory over Sacramento.

“I felt two steps behind,” he said. “My shots weren’t falling at first. I had to get a few steals on the defensive end, look for my teammates and pretty much drive in and make plays.”

After a steal and a driving layup put Maine ahead 108-105, Waters rose up to block an attempted dunk by the 6-foot-10 Henry Ellenson, a fellow two-way player who led Long Island with 25 points. Although called for a foul that led to a pair of successful Ellenson free throws, Waters sent a message to his teammates and a surge throughout the Expo.

“In that situation, you can’t allow two easy points,” he said. “Just to keep the momentum in our favor.”

A subsequent steal by Justin Bibbs led to a Bibbs floater and Waters closed the door on any remaining comeback hopes with three successful drives. Waters finished with 17 points to go along with 22 for Bibbs and 24 for Yante Maten. Langford and Trey Davis each had 14 and Wayne Blackshear added 12.

NOTES: The Red Claws return to action Thursday night at the Expo against Wisconsin. … Shaun Fein, a two-year Red Claws assistant under Scott Morrison, is Long Island’s rookie head coach. He may not have been as disappointed as most fans over not seeing Fall Sunday. “It’s always good to play against a guy like that, it’s a challenge,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll see him next time.”

 

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