PORTLAND, Maine — If the arrival of Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is indeed on their horizon, the Maine Red Claws aren’t talking about it.
On Monday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens raised the possibility of Rondo, who tore his ACL in February, rehabbing with the Red Claws. Team officials say they haven’t heard anything from their parent club about the four-time NBA All-Star’s plans and don’t expect to hear anything until the Celtics clear the assignment with the NBA and NBADL.
Rest assured that if and when Rondo does indeed undertake a much-discussed rehab stint with the Red Claws, he won’t be taking Frank Gaines’ place in the starting lineup.
Gaines poured in a career-high 33 points and set new franchise records for free throws made and attempted to help Maine snap a four-game losing streak with a 103-96 win over the Delaware 87ers before a New Years Eve matinee gathering of 2,592 at the Portland Expo.
The Red Claws’ 2013 second-round draft pick converted 17 of 20 from the free throw line, including 11 of 13 in the fourth quarter to help Maine pull away from the pesky Sevens, who rallied from a pair of double-digit deficits to tie or take the lead.
“The system was going. [Coach Mike Taylor] was running a lot of plays for me,” said Gaines, a 6-foot-3 guard out of Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. “My teammates were setting great screens and throwing good passes, so that helped me a lot. It put me in a lot of good situations.”
“Today was a game where we put ourselves in a really good position [but] we let them come back and then we had to rebuild that lead,” said Taylor, whose team shot 39 percent from the field. “Obviously, Frank’s attacking plays and getting some calls helping him get to the line was very important.”
Veteran Chris Wright added 19 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots and displayed his usual crowd-pleasing athleticism. Fellow forward Chris Babb chipped in with a quietly comprehensive performance, tallying 13 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and a blocked shot.
All five Maine (6-6) starters scored in double figures, including Ty Walker with 13 points and Marcel Anderson with 10. Lorenzo Brown led Delaware (3-12) with 18 points.
Delaware’s bench outscored Maine’s, 46-15. Maine was playing without injured contributors Kam Taylor (right knee) and Romero Osby (right shoulder).
Grimes, who went into Tuesday second on the team in scoring (17.2 ppg), showed he doesn’t share Rondo’s reluctance to get to the free throw line, especially in crunch time. His two free throws with 8:44 left put the Red Claws back in front for good at 81-79.
Grimes later added a jumper and, after being fouled on a 3-point attempt, made all three free throws to widen the margin to 94-86.
“Frank is a young player who has asserted himself very well in the first few games of this year,” Taylor said. “We really like his potential. He plays both ends of the floor. He’s proven that he’s a guy that’s reliable when we call his number.”
Delaware scored the next six points to mount one last comeback attempt, but Anderson drilled a 3-pointer to make it 97-92 with 1:18 to go.
The Sevens still had a chance to make it a one-possession game with 27 seconds remaining, but Babb drew a charge on a driving Damian Sanders and Gaines drained two more free throws to put the game away.
“We had more focus,” Gaines said. “Our leaders, like Chris Wright, he’s been emphasizing finishing games and focusing.”
The Red Claws started well, too, converting nine Delaware turnovers into a 23-10 lead late in the first quarter.
Delaware closed back to within five early in the second quarter, but Grimes started attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line to inflate the lead to 13 with six minutes left in the half.
“Once you get a couple of things to the basket, it opens everything else up,” Gaines said. “When they start to pack it in, it opens up our 3-point game sooner or later.”
The 87ers closed the half with a 15-3 run capped by Reeves Nelson’s dunk with five seconds left to make it a one-point game, 50-49, at the break.
Delaware took its first lead of the game a little over a minute into the second half on a Thanasis Antetokounm layup. Grimes put the Red Claws back in front with a 3-pointer and they gradually increased the margin 75-64 on Zeke Marshall’s putback with three minutes to go in the quarter.
Delaware closed the quarter out strong again with a 10-1 run to make it a two-point game, then tied it on Ben Strong’s hoop to start the fourth.
Distributed by MCT Information Services