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Cleveland Charge advance to the second round with comeback victory over the Maine Celtics

A 22-2 run at the start of the third erased a 14-point deficit propelling the Charge to victory.

2023 NBA G League Playoffs - Cleveland Charge v Maine Celtics Photo by China Wong/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cleveland Charge fought back from an early 18-point deficit to defeat the Maine Celtics 113-100. The Charge advance to the second round of the playoffs where they will take on the Long Island Nets Friday afternoon.

This was a story of two halves for the Charge. Maine came out of the gates firing from three as they connected on 6 of their first 7 attempts. Cleveland meanwhile created open looks, but weren’t able to knock them down early on. They ended the first half 6-24 from three which included shooting 0-9 in the second quarter alone. The Celtics used this to grab a 58-44 lead at the break.

“I told the guys at halftime that we’ve been in these situations many times before and we always responded to them.” Charge head coach Mike Gerrity said. “We got great looks in the first half that didn’t drop. We just needed to continue taking those same shots with confidence.”

Those shots started to drop in the third quarter which turned things around quickly. Cleveland scored on eight of their first ten possessions while holding Maine to just two points during that stretch. This led to a 22-2 run that allowed the Charge to go from being down 14 to up 6 in just over five minutes. Cleveland outscored Maine 39-11 in the third.

The defensive end is what turned things around for the Charge.

“It was our defensive intensity to start the half that fueled our offense. We locked in,” Gerrity said. “We started getting deflections, we started forcing turnovers and were able to get out and get some easy ones.”

The Charge built the lead up to 16 near the close of the third quarter. They never relinquished control of the game from there. Maine trimmed the deficit to six midway through the fourth, but a quick 9-2 run by the Charge got the lead back to 15.

Sam Merrill led the team with a game-high 28 points on 10-18 shooting which included going 6-13 from three while contributing 5 assists and 5 rebounds in 45 minutes. He was the catalyst that started the avalanche in the third. His 15 points on 5-6 shooting that quarter helped turn the momentum of the game.

While the shooting is what makes the box score, what isn’t what impressed Gerrity.

“There’s just so much this guy brings to a team that doesn’t even show up on the box score like taking charges, executing defensive coverages, diving on the floor for loose balls and communicating with his teammates. Yet, he still finished with 28 points. We’re fortunate to have Sam on our side.”

Nate Hinton showed why he’s the ultimate glue guy. His 16 rebounds against a team that’s first in rebound percentage and second in offensive rebound percentage helped take away Maine’s biggest strength. Hinton also contributed 22 points.

“Nate’s a winner,” said Gerrity. “Plain and simple. These are the type of games where he shines. He ran 24-straight minutes in that second half. I kept looking at him and and asking him [if he needed a break], but he kept telling me he was good. He’s just the heart and soul of our team.”

Sharife Cooper had a tough time getting things going. He picked up two quick fouls in the opening four minutes and a third in the second which kept him on the bench throughout a majority of the first half.

Cooper responded in a major way. He was the best offensive player in the second half as he contributed 19 points and 10 assists over the final two quarters to lead the Charge to victory.

“I was very impressed with the way he was able to regroup and come back out in that second half and make things happen,” said Gerrity. “He was running the show and making the solid and right play. He did a great job of leading us in that second half.”

Isaiah Mobley struggled to get anything to fall from the field or the free-throw line. He contributed 15 points on an uncharacteristic 6-20 shooting.

Those offensive struggles didn’t bleed over to the other end. He did a good job of containing Boston Celtics’ two-way center Mfiondu Kabengele holding him to just 9 points on 4-11 shooting. Maine as a team only finished with 34 points on 50% shooting in the paint.

“He was a force,” Gerrity said about Mobley’s defense. “We talked about Kabengele’s offensive rebounding going into the game and how many second chance opportunities he makes for his team. For that guy to have zero offensive rebounds says so much to the job Isaiah did.”

Dylan Windler had a strong start to the game. His 9 first quarter points kept a game that seemed to be slipping away within arm’s reach.

Windler did exit the game midway through the fourth with an ankle injury. The extent of the injury and his status for Friday’s contest is unknown at this time.

Up next: The Charge are heading to the Empire State to take on the Long Island Nets in the second round of the playoffs. Like the first round, this is another single elimination game.

“Long Island is the number one team in the Eastern Conference for a reason,” said Gerrity. “We know its going to be a challenge and a dogfight. But I know our guys will be excited and motivated by the opportunity.”

Tip-off Friday is at noon. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2.