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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Maine's Demetrius Jackson, left, tries to pass to a teammate while being defended by the Mad Ants' Trey McKinney Jones on Tuesday.

Saturday, April 08, 2017 1:00 am

Ex-Irish star hopes to claw back to NBA

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Playoffs

Mad Ants vs. Maine

First round

(Best-of-3)

Maine leads 1-0

Game 1: Maine wins 110-106

Game 2: 8 p.m. Monday at Portland, Maine

Game 3: 7 p.m. Wednesday at Portland*

* If necessary

Demetrius Jackson knows the Boston Celtics are one of the best teams in the NBA – 50-29 and in second place in the Eastern Conference – with a bevy of young talent.

If he wants to crack the roster, the rookie out of Notre Dame needs to keep playing like Tuesday, when he had a game-high 30 points in the Maine Red Claws' 110-106 overtime playoff victory over the Mad Ants at Memorial Coliseum.

“It motivates me because I know the standard is so high and that if I'm going to get an opportunity with the Boston Celtics, I have to be great,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-1 guard. “I'm just trying to learn and develop while I'm there and while I'm away.”

Jackson, a second-round draft pick of the Celtics last year, has made 3 of 4 shots with three assists in five NBA games. In 32 regular-season games with the Red Claws, he averaged 14.8 points, 6 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals.

The Red Claws could eliminate the Mad Ants in Game 2 of the best-of-3 series at 8 p.m. Monday in Portland, Maine.

“We've got a talented group of guys,” said Jackson, who had 14 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, used his speed to attack the paint and made 10 of 12 free throws. “When you work hard, good things happen. That's a key component to basketball – you want to keep it close and then, when it's time toward the end, you've got to make plays.”

Tyler Hansbrough had 29 points and 20 rebounds for Fort Wayne, which squandered a nine-point lead with poor outside shooting. But the Mad Ants have excelled after losses, aside from a five-game losing streak in February, they've lost back-to-back games only twice.

“Both teams were prepared. A lot of shots didn't fall for us and I thought we fouled a little bit too much, too, but it's always tough against Maine,” Fort Wayne coach Steve Gansey said. “There's never an easy game in the D-League. You never know what can happen throughout the game with guys getting hot or guys not getting hot, how the game is being called, so it's always tough.”

Maine, which is 15-10 at home, is the second seed in the conference because of its division title. But it won one less regular-season game than Fort Wayne (30-20, 14-11 on the road).

Both teams are trying to overcome personnel changes. The Mad Ants lost Alex Poythress to the Philadelphia 76ers on April 1, and Maine lost Marcus Georges-Hunt to the Orlando Magic on Monday. Maine has another Celtics prospect, Jordan Mickey, who had 26 points in Game 1. The Pacers' Georges Niang had 13 points for the Mad Ants.

“It's a blessing to be able to play the game I love to play, to be able to come down here and get live reps and be able to compete,” said Jackson, a South Bend native who played at Mishawaka Marian and was runner-up to Hamilton Southeastern's Zak Irvin for Mr. Basketball in 2013. 

“When you love the game, you just love to compete and you love everything about it, (like) the relationship with your teammates, the process of getting better, the ups and the downs. So it's all part of the process, and I'm definitely very thankful to be a Boston Celtic and to be a Maine Red Claw.”

jcohn@jg.net