Category: NBL

The National Basketball League (NBL) is the highest level of male basketball in Australia. It features eight Australian teams and one New Zealand team that compete for the title each year. The season runs from October through until March with the Perth Wildcats being the most successful side in recent history.

2021 NBL Grand Final preview: Game 3

THE National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series moves to Melbourne for Game 3 with Melbourne United looking to seal the deal against Perth Wildcats in front of a home crowd. Having played the first two games at RAC Arena the ease in COVID-19 restrictions has allowed play to transition to Victoria on Friday night with the game set to be an absolute blockbuster.

Melbourne United are sitting pretty with two wins under their belts and are one win away from securing the coveted premiership. It has been a rollercoaster series so far with Perth getting out to early leads in both games but United showcasing their class and grit to grind down the Wildcats and win. Unfortunately Perth have been struck down with a wealth of injuries with Bryce Cotton yet to take the court due to his injury, Luke Travers and Clint Steindl were both sidelined in Game 2, while sparks flew around the fitness of Mitch Norton who appeared to tweak something. Perth will once again be tested for depth in Game 3 while United are going along swimmingly on the injury front with the only concern Jo Lual-Acuil who left the court.

Scoring is proving to be a real issue for the Wildcats who have been unable to hit the 80-point mark in their past seven encounters. Meanwhile United have showcased their firepower and dominance from long range to keep the Wildcats out of the game. Momentum will be a focal point in this clash with United expected to come in with a head full of steam. But one thing that cannot be discounted is Perth’s ability to do the unthinkable. The two-time premiers have an uncanny ability to whip something up out of nothing and will need to be at their damaging best if they are to keep their slim premiership hopes alive.

United will be hoping to shut down Todd Blanchfield once again and really put the clamps on the forward like they did in Game 2. Blanchfield was an excitement machine in Game 1 but failed to have the same impact second time around but does not often have two quiet games. John Mooney is another player for the Wildcats that can turn a game in the blink of an eye given he averages 17 points and 11.4 rebounds but has not reached those heights so far this series. Kevin White and Will Magnay will have to up the ante if they are to upset United and apply some real scoreboard pressure.

Looking at United and the home side will have plenty of pep in their step when they host Perth on Friday. Chris Goulding found his stroke from beyond the arc in Game 2 and if he continues on that trajectory it could spell trouble for the Wildcats. It is a two-pronged attack for United with Goulding and Jock Landale able to hit the scoreboard with great ease. the pair have quickly become a commanding force with Landale both a threat off the boards and on the points scoring front thanks to his average of 16.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. But it is the support from their bench players that gives United a real edge with Yudai Baba having a blistering performance in Game 2 and Scotty Hopson and Mitch McCarron able to inflict scoreboard pain in a short amount of time.

Photo credit: Will Russell

United make it two from two away from home

MELBOURNE United are one step away from claiming the ultimate prize toppling Perth Wildcats in Game 2 of the Grand Final series (83-74).  Backing up their performance from only days earlier, United got the job done at RAC Arena digging deep in the second half.

It was a blistering first term of basketball from Perth as the home side charged out of the blocks with a real point to prove. Only going down by three points in Game 1 it looked as if the Wildcats were out for vengeance nice and early despite missing the likes of Bryce Cotton, Clint Steindl and Luke Travers. It was always going to be hard to find scoring avenues but the Wildcats did not have that issue in the opening term as John Mooney and Will Magnay inserted themselves in the contest. United would not give in though as Chris Goulding picked up where he left off, finding his stroke from down-town alongside Jock Landale. But Perth were relentless piling on eight points straight and continued to attack the rim as Kevin White replaced Mitch Norton who was struggling with an injury he sustained in Game 1. By quarter time the Wildcats had established a handy 10-point lead to put them in good stead for the match.

Disappointed with their efforts in the first term United came out with a much more spirited performance to start the second, pegging away at the deficit thanks to eight straight points as Jo Lual-Acuil found his groove. It was not until Yudai Baba drained a three-pointer that United hit the front. But the twists and turns continued as the lead changed hands once again as Perth went on a handy nine point scoring spree to quash United’s momentum. With the clock ticking down to half time, Baba had other ideas as he landed one from three-point range before bringing the house down with a half-court shot on the buzzer to level the scores at 42 apiece.

With neither side really able to assert themselves on the contest it was United’s time to shine and that they did. Goulding showcased his leadership and grit to spur his side on as they rallied, adding nine consecutive points to establish a handy lead. but Goulding proved costly on the foul front notching up his fourth for the evening and subsequently pushing him to the bench. Credit to Melbourne’s defence the Wildcats were unable to find any easy avenue to the basket as Mooney was shut down and Todd Blanchfield struggled to have the same impact he did in Game 1. United controlled majority of the term despite a couple of late points from White and Magnay to get the three quarter time buffer to five points.

It was all coming down to the final quarter with United looking to close out the game and the Wildcats hoping to do the unthinkable and flip the script to notch up a win. But that was not to be, as Melbourne got busy in the first couple of minutes with Scotty Hopson opening the account with a jump shot to set the wheels in motion. Goulding was re-injected back into the action with the captain impressing with his dominance from beyond the arc . Things just continued to steadily tick along for United as their class and depth shone through against a depleted Perth outfit.

Mooney was the main playmaker for the Wildcats producing 17 points and nine rebounds while Blanchfield was down on his Game 1 efforts finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds. Norton managed 12 points in his 27 minutes while White also chimed in with a handy 12 points and two rebounds. There were a few more contributors for the victors but once again it was Goulding that led the way sinking 21 points at 50 per cent from the field. His dominance from three-point range was a standout draining four shots from seven attempts. Landale racked up a double-double thanks to his 12 points and 17 rebounds, 15 of which were defensive while Baba had a game to remember sinking 15 points and four rebounds. Lual-Acuil was the only other player to reach double figures with 10 points as Hopson walked away with nine points to his name.

Game 3 will be played at John Cain Arena as Melbourne United look to seal the deal with a win and secure the coveted premiership. But it will not be easy given Perth are back-to-back champions for a reason and will be eager to make amends for their shortcomings.

Photo credit: AAP

United claim upper hand in Game 1

MELBOURNE United scraped home to snatch a narrow three point victory in Game 1 of the Grand Final series against a depleted Perth Wildcats (73-70). It was a hard slog with neither side willing to give an inch as the lead chopped and changed throughout the contest.

In front of a packed RAC Arena the home side was hoping to kick things off with a bang but were hit hard by injury before the game even started with three time MVP Bryce Cotton still out of action and Luke Travers unable to take the court with calf soreness. United were on the money early with captain, Chris Goulding inspiring the side before Mason Peatling contributed to the scoreboard. But the Wildcats were not about to lie down as the cogs started to tick over as Travers’ replacement in Clint Steindl converted his free-throws and Mitch Norton found his way to the rim. Perth continued this momentum to end the term with a nine point to three run creating a narrow one point lead at the break 19-18.

Looking to capitalise on their dominant end to the term Wani Swaka Lo Buluk nailed consecutive shots to push the margin out to three points before both Todd Blanchfield and John Mooney got involved in the action for Perth.  The lead ballooned out to as much as seven points as the Wildcats shut down United’s drive to the basket through their defensive efforts. It was a high intensity final three minutes of basketball in the second quarter as both sides traded blows in hope to gain the upper hand and a last second triple from none other than Goulding was exactly what the side needed heading into the main break.

Only four points separated the two sides at half time and United were eager to eat into that deficit from the opening minutes of the third quarter. With Steindl out of the game for Perth and Melbourne still at full capacity the visitors made use of their bench depth. With less than nine minutes left on the clock United levelled the scores at 35 points apiece but that was short lived as Perth hit back to forge ahead. But the twists and turns continued as Jock Landale came to life in the third with the star recruit imposing himself in every way he could while Goulding was at his damaging best from beyond the arc. United did not look like relenting with the momentum well and truly favouring them as veteran David Barlow showed some spark with a handy triple as Melbourne started to assert themselves. As the clock ticked down to the final change the visitors held a four point lead thanks to a 29 point to 18 term.

With it all to play for in the final term United were in the box seat and while the boisterous crowd were trying their hard to spur the Wildcats on it was not enough. Blanchfield was monumental for the Wildcats but it was the likes of Landale and Goulding that were doing a wealth of damage as they continued their merry way for United. In fact the lead skipped out to as much as 10 points midway through the quarter thanks to a hookshot from Jo Lual-Acuil. But as the quarter went on the spirit and fight of Wildcats came to the fore as they dwindled the margin back to three but fell short of victory with a potential to Norton also at the forefront of Perth’s mind.

Blanchfield was a consistent figure for the Wildcats topscoring with a whopping 27 points and seven rebounds all of which were defensive. Kevin White chimed in with a handy 10 points and five rebounds coming off the bench while Mooney was down on his productivity only registering eight points, seven rebounds and four steals. For United, Goulding was running hot sinking 23 points along with three rebounds and two steals. Landale was also proficient thanks to his 17 points at 43 per cent from the field plus his seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Mitch McCarron had an influence off the boards reeling in 11 rebounds and also managed six points while Lual-Acuil finished the game with 10 points and seven rebounds to his name.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

2021 NBL Finals: Perth vs. Melbourne – Grand final preview

IT is a tale as old as time with Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United once again set to lock horns in the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final. Game 1 and 2 will be played at RAC Arena given the current COVID-19 restrictions in place in Victoria with the hopes of Game 3 to be played back in Melbourne.

Taking out top spot on the ladder three games clear of Perth, United will be hoping to bring that same level of intensity when they enter the fortress that is RAC Arena on Friday night. The two teams have faced off five times this season with United securing three of those victories to give them the edge heading into the grand final series. However with a home crowd behind them and an uncanny ability to do the unthinkable Perth are not without a real chance here. The Wildcats are not back-to-back premiers for no reason with their ability to come from the ashes and steal a win one of their specialities meaning United will have to be on their a-game.

The two sides met only a couple of years ago in the 2018/19 grand finals series where the Wildcats claimed victory in four games a feat that United will be hoping to reverse. An early win here in enemy territory could really shape a title push for Melbourne. But if Perth are able to apply the early pressure then it could make life hard for the visitors who are on the hunt for their first premiership since 2018.

Both sides were put through the wringer to make it to the grand final forced to three games in their respective semi-finals series. Perth was faced with Illawarra Hawks who turned their 2020 campaign well and truly around from bottom of the table to third while United had to come from behind in Game 3 to topple South East Melbourne Phoenix. But now heading into this clash it will be battle to see which playmakers can step up to the plate and lead the charge. Both sides are littered with classy figures that are no strangers to the big stage but it will be their ability to withstand the pressure and play composed basketball that will be the real difference.

Perth has been missing Bryce Cotton and he is an integral member in their side given his capacity to bob up at any given time and attack the rim or dish off dimes. Without him expect John Mooney to up the ante. Mooney is coming off a 16 point and 15 rebound game with the bigman proving to be a menace up either end of the court with 13 of those 15 rebounds defensive. Todd Blanchfield has been resurgent this season with his attacking manner and imposing style of play allowing him to impact the scoreboard as seen through his 24 points last game and season average of 15 points. Mitch Norton is another one the Wildcats will be hoping continues his hot run of form while Jesse Wagstaff is a real heart and soul player that can inspire his team when needed.

Looking at United and after a milestone game last round Chris Goulding will be wanting to continue his careers upwards trajectory. In his 351st game, the captain will be hoping to find his range nice and early from beyond the arc to send off a real warning shot to the Wildcats. Goulding averages 15.4 points a game along with 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Another real livewire for United is Jock Landale with the star recruit showcasing his attacking prowess last game to drag his side over the line. Landale leads the way for United with 16.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists to his name making him a concern for the Wildcats. Throw in the likes of Scotty Hopson with 12.3 points and 3.6 rebounds each time he steps out on the court plus the reliability of Mitch McCarron and United have their fair share of power players. Yudai Baba is known for his ability to chime in while Jo Lual-Acuil is also having an impressive season making for an enticing battle.

Photo credit: Getty images

Landale guides United to victory and grand final berth

MELBOURNE United are off to the big dance once again, bypassing crosstown rivals South East Melbourne Phoenix by 10 points, 84-74. It was an inspired second half by the top of the table United who looked down and out in the opening term but turned things around to claim the win with star recruit Jock Landale imposing himself when the going got tough.

Despite just sneaking into the top four the Phoenix had a real aura of confidence and determination which was on show from the opening minutes. Although it took over a minute for a score to be registered it was Mitch Creek that landed the first blow, with the Phoenix in control of proceedings, piling on the scoreboard pressure and limiting the options United had to go to basket. Reuben Te Rangi found his rhythm nice and early before Keifer Sykes took control with the American import draining eight points alone in the first quarter. United looked in all sorts of trouble while the Phoenix were in cruise control pushing out to a handy 10-point lead thanks to a 24-14 point term.

The second quarter was not much better for United as New Zealander Izayah Le’Afa nailed consecutive threes for South East Melbourne. The game started to slip away for United as the lead ballooned out to 17 points. Needing a spark and a way to get themselves back into the contest, Landale came to life. Relatively well held in the first stanza he kicked it up a gear in the second draining a whopping 12 points alone to spur United on and single-handedly drag them back into the match. From 17 points in the early stages of the quarter, the lead was dwindled down to five to give United a fighting chance in the third.

That fighting chance was all United needed as the minor premiers rallied in the third to put the Phoenix on the back foot. The momentum steadily switched hands as fan favourite and Melbourne United stalwart, Chris Goulding imposed himself on the contest. In his 350th game, Goulding had plans that did not involve losing as he sunk a triple within the opening minutes of the quarter. Landale picked up where he left off with an additional six points while Scotty Hopson upped the ante to really apply the pressure on the Phoenix. An 18-12 term handed United the lead heading into the final term and with the grand final in sight it was all systems go.

The class and composure of United came to the fore as Mitch McCarron added to their one-point margin to push it out to three and set the wheels in motion. The increased defensive pressure from United was causing all sorts of trouble for the Phoenix who were struggling to find the basket. Goulding continued to steer the ship landing a handy triple with Yudai Baba also showing his skill from range to nail a three and seal the deal to win by 10 points.

Bursting out of the blocks in the first quarter, Sykes was well held for the rest of the match as he finished with 15 points, three rebounds and four assists to his name. Creek was his ever-reliable self, producing 19 points and nine rebounds as Te Rangi had arguably his best game to-date to topscore with 22 points at 61 per cent and register six rebounds. The load was shared relatively evenly for United but it was Landale that caught the eye with a scintillating 27 points and impressive 84 per cent accuracy from the field. He also managed eight rebounds in his 34 minutes on court. Goulding was the next best with 14 points, two assists and two steals while McCarron showed his class thanks to his 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Hopson was also handy off the bench sinking nine points and six rebounds.

United will now take on Perth Wildcats in the Grand Final series, a scenario they know all too well having played in the 2018/19 season. Melbourne will be hoping to reverse their fortunes this time round, however will have to play the first two games at RAC Arena due to current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.

Photo credit: Mark Kolbe

First half blitz sees order restored, Wildcats back in the Grand Final

IT was a feat that no matter how much you took away from Perth Wildcats – a star player down and out, a one-game deficit – the reigning back-to-back champions were always going to find a away. Trevor Gleeson‘s team just refused to give in, and it showed during the Wildcats’ defining third game to put away a brave Illawarra Hawks in the National Basketball League (NBL) Semi-Finals Series.

The Wildcats lost the opening game at home, found a way to win on the road, then delivered the knockout blow back at RAC Arena, doing what they failed to do in the first game, and really putting last year’s wooden spooners to the sword early. A first half blitz, a dominant John Mooney close to the basket collecting everything, and a resurgent Todd Blanchfield showing his former side the exit door all led to the Wildcats’ eight-point win to secure yet another Grand Final Series spot.

In even better news, the Wildcats will get to play their two allocated home games up first against the winner of either Victorian side Melbourne United or South East Melbourne Phoenix, which if they can win already gives them a head start before needing to hit the road. Border restrictions have certainly played a huge part, but everything is aligning for an against-the-odds Wildcats title again.

From the opening tip-off it appeared both sides seemed to be comfortable in the do-or-die semi-final, as Illawarra Hawks got out to a five-point advantage midway through the term. It would not only prove to be their largest lead of the match, but once they surrendered it, the Hawks would never get it back. Instead, the Wildcats took control in the second half of the term to win the quarter 23-15, and by half-time that lead had grown to 46-32 and the writing was on the wall.

Brian Goorjian‘s Hawks were a different breed to the dismal outfit of 2019/20, so they threw down the gauntlet to the Wildcats in the third term, restricting the home side to just nine points, winning the quarter by 10 and cutting the final break deficit to just four – it was game on. When Tyler Harvey nailed the first triple of the last stanza, the Hawks were within a point (55-54), but that only spurred the Wildcats on, going up a gear that perhaps only they have, piling on 11 straight points to suddenly hold a 12-point advantage (66-54) with 6:31 on the clock. Whilst the Hawks were able to cut the deficit back – even reducing it to four points late in the game, it was that burst that proved the difference in the 79-71 result.

Perth won the rebounds (41-34), assists (16-11) and shot at a marginally higher clip (40 to 39 per cent), as well as scored more from turnovers (20-19) despite having more turnovers (15-12). The Hawks held their own with more blocks (7-2), second chance points (11-8) and bench points (21-17), but in the end it would not be enough, and their shooting percentage, particularly from long-range (29 per cent) and from the free-throw line (72 per cent) hurt.

Mooney finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds – 13 defensive – as well as two assists, while Blanchfield shot 24 points – four of 11 from long-range – five rebounds, three steals and two assists in a strong partnership. Mitch Norton (15 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals) was the other double-digit scorer, while Clint Steindl (eight points, two assists), Luke Travers (seven points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals) and Jesse Wagstaff (six points, four rebounds) also did well.

For the Hawks, Harvey had the 10 points, two rebounds and two assists, with Sam Froling (14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks) being huge on defence and Justin Simon (nine points, 11 rebounds – five offensive – and four assists) a menace at both ends. Daniel Grida (nine points, three rebounds and two steals) and Justinian Jessup (eight points, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks) also contributed in an even starting five.

Perth Wildcats will host the winner of the other Semi-Finals Series on Friday night, followed by Game Two on Sunday night, as the remainder of the fixture is yet to be decided pending border restrictions.

Picture credit: Paul Kane / Getty Images

Phoenix send it to Game 3 with emphatic come-from-behind win

SOUTH East Melbourne Phoenix bit back in Game 2 of the semi-finals series downing Melbourne United by 11 points, 90-79. The win takes the total to one apiece forcing the series to a decider with the winner through to the grand final. It was a tale of two halves with the second favouring the Phoenix and allowing them to get the job done.

From the opening whistle it looked like Melbourne United were going to walk away with the chocolates once again and seal their fate early with a hard-earned grand final berth. United hit the scoreboard with ease largely due to some good shooting from Chris Goulding as they skipped out to a handy 7-2 advantage. It was clear that there was plenty of feeling out on court with Jock Landale finding himself in hot water early picking up two fouls in the first term alone before teammate David Barlow registered an unsportsmanlike foul to really trouble the top of the table side. This well and truly played into the hands of the Phoenix as their key cogs stepped up to the plate with Keifer Sykes showcasing his wares. It was tit-for-tat in the final stages of the term before United landed the final blow to hold a slim two point lead at the break.

The second term saw much of the same with the two sides competing hard and throwing everything they had at one another in hope to find a winning edge – an edge United seemed to have unlocked. Things were motoring along nicely for United who snuck out to a handy nine-point lead towards the backend of the quarter as Scotty Hopson and Jo Lual-Acuil rotated strike on the scoring front. But the Phoenix were determined to fight back and not the game slip through their fingers as Yannick Wetzell nailed back to back shots before Kyle Adnam delivered from the charity strip to reduce the margin to four points at half time.

In the driver’s seat heading into the premiership term, United looked composed and in control. But the Phoenix were not done yet, they continued to linger and pester at United who were unable to put them away scoring 20 points apiece in the third. Mitch Creek and Sykes proved to be crucial for South East Melbourne with the duo finding ways to bob up and hit the scoreboard every time United tried to create some separation. A nine-point straight run from the Phoenix gifted them the lead and the ascendancy but that was short lived as Yudai Baba struck back with a much needed triple to steal the lead back heading into the final change.

The Phoenix had been thereabouts all game and now was their time to shine. With the game on the line they left nothing to chance whipping out the big guns and upping the ante particularly in defence. They stifled United keeping them to a mere nine points while they piled on a whopping 24 to completely swing the momentum. Landale found himself in further foul trouble on and off the court while the Phoenix were finding their groove. There were limited threes all night before Creek got the party started to hand his side their highest lead of the game out to five points, and from there on out, United simply had no answers and no way to combat Sykes who was having a field day as the Phoenix reigned supreme.

Both Creek and Sykes had a day out registering 26 points apiece in a strong showing for the Phoenix. Sykes converted at 55 per cent from the field while also managing four assists, three steals and three blocks as Creek picked up four rebounds. Wetzell was also strong sinking 20 points and eight rebounds providing a helping hand in offence. It was a lot more evenly spread for United who did not necessarily have a dominant player as Hopson topped the table with 19 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Goulding was next best with 14 points but was uncharacteristically inaccurate from deep only nailing two of his eight attempts. Both Mason Peatling and Lual-Acuil finished with 11 points and seven rebounds each. Landale had a night he would rather forget only registering five points in his 13 minutes while also being fouled out.

Game 3 between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne will be played on Tuesday at Qudos Bank Arena.

Photo credit: Jason McCawley

Wildcats claw their way to third game with win on the road over Hawks

JUST when it looks like Perth Wildcats are down for the count, one can never discount them as a title threat. The two-time reigning champion and greatest team of the modern era, missing their best player and star Most Valuable Player Bryce Cotton, went a game down against the Hawks at their fortress of RAC Arena and looked like a sweep was in order. Instead, development player Luke Travers and a team refusing to concede their title run was over, picked themselves off the canvas and delivered a sterling 79-71 win over Illawarra Hawks to force a third game back at RAC Arena.

In the match, it was the visitors who started off well to lead by three points in the opening term to try and quiet down the WIN Entertainment Centre crowd. Illawarra responded to the first term with an 18-12 second term which saw the momentum go in their favour to take a three-point advantage into half-time. The Hawks continued to lead up until the midway point of the third quarter, before the Wildcats exploded to even drag the lead out to double-digits before a couple of late scores made it seven points in favour of the visitors. Both teams were fairly even in the last term, but the Wildcats never let it get closer than six points, for an eventual eight-point win, 79-71.

Illawarra Hawks actually had the higher shooting efficiency, nailing 42 per cent of their field goals compared to Perth’s 39 per cent. They dominated the steals (10-3) and blocks (6-1), and also had less turnovers (9-14) leading to more points from turnovers (13-7). With more points in the paint (32-30) as well, the home team certainly had enough aspects on their terms in the game. Perth managed to get to the line more often with 14 of 21, whilst the Hawks only hit one of four in a higher field shooting effort. The Wildcats dominated the rebounds (48-35) and assists (22-13), and also had less fouls (15-19), more second chance points (16-9) and bench points (28-22).

Travers won Player of the match honours with a huge 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes of action, evenly splitting his rebounds with five on both the offensive and defensive ends. John Mooney (18 points, eight rebounds and two assists), Clint Steindl (12 points, three assists and two rebounds) and Todd Blanchfield (11 points, five rebounds five assists and two steals) all hit double-figure points. Will Magnay (seven points, six rebounds) and Kevin White (six points, five rebounds and six assists) also had strong influences in the win.

For the Hawks, Tyler Harvey knocked up 24 points, four steals, two rebounds and two assists, with six of 11 from long-range helping his cause as his two-point range departed him (three of 12). Justinian Jessup chipped in with 11 points and two rebounds, whilst Deng Deng (nine points, four rebounds) and Justin Simon (eight points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals) both stood up. Isaac White (eight points) helped in 14 minutes off the bench, whilst Sam Froling (six rebounds and four blocks) worked hard at both ends.

The final and deciding semi-final clash between the teams takes place tomorrow night at RAC Arena, 9:30pm AEST with the winner advancing through to the Grand Final series.

Picture credit: AAP

Melbourne United assert dominance over cross-town rivals in Game 1

IT was a one-sided affair as Melbourne United defeated cross-town rival South East Melbourne Phoenix by 18 points (96-78) on Friday. United showcased why they were top of the table in Game 1 of their semi-finals series with a convincing performance from the opening buzzer to lead from go-to-woe.

The Phoenix made all the running in the first few minutes of the opening quarter, piling on seven points straight to steal the lead and create a handy five-point buffer against Melbourne United. But the tables started to slowly turn as Sam McDaniel found his groove, hitting a much needed triple to get United back in the game. That was the exact spark Melbourne needed as the duo of Mason Peatling and Jock Landale asserted themselves on the contest to score with great ease and keep the scoreboard ticking over for United, while the contribution of Scotty Hopson off the bench did plenty of favours for the ladder leaders, producing seven points in the first term alone.

Holding a nice six-point lead at the break, United kicked it up a gear in the second with their defensive and offensive game on point. Forcing five turnovers in the first term alone, the Phoenix were struggling to work the ball down court and have any real potency and unfortunately it did not get any easier as Melbourne went on a scoring rampage, piling on 32 points to 18. Landale set the tone nice and early with his five points to start the quarter before veteran, Chris Goulding showed his wares with three triples to create some real scoreboard separation. Hopson continued on his merry way, finding his stroke from down town as Landale proved to be a thorn in the Phoenix’s side, posting 16 points before half time.

The 20-point half time buffer was always going to be hard to come back from for the Phoenix and while Ryan Broekhoff got the party underway, it was short lived. Their inability to treasure possession was coming back to bite them time and time again while United pounced on their opportunities. the full court defensive pressure stemming from United was palpable as they clamped down on South East Melbourne to stop them scoring for over three minutes, all while pouring on the points with 16 straight to establish a commanding 31-point lead at the final change, 85-54.

With respect on the line the Phoenix came out with a point to prove in the final term and that they did, playing with some real conviction and purpose. They increased their output on the scoreboard, sinking 24 points while limiting United’s chances to capitalise, but it mattered very little as the damage was already done.

Landale had a night to remember, producing 26 points at an impressive 71 per cent from the field. Next best for United was Hopson with 22 points in his 20 minutes on court with his accuracy from the field also crucial, going at 81 per cent. Hopson also picked up three assists. Goulding did his best work in the second term, only finishing with nine points to his name but four rebounds and an assist as Peatling reeled in six rebounds while Jo Lual-Acuil plied his trade with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal. For the Phoenix it was Ben Moore that led the charge with 17 points coming off the bench along with three rebounds, as star Mitch Creek also made his presence felt with 15 points at 60 per cent from the field. Creek also managed four rebounds, six assists and two steals in an attempt to get his side over the line. Keifer Sykes worked hard for his 12 points as Broekhoff managed eight and Kyle Adnam sunk nine points but at a lowly 42 per cent.

One thing the Phoenix will take out of the game was the fact they know they can work themselves back into a match given their last quarter efforts. However if United secure the next win on Sunday – back at Qudos Bank Arena given the current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria – then it will be curtains for the Phoenix and a chance for United to lift the premiership.

Photo credit: Jason McCawley

Second half flurry sees Hawks upset reigning champs in opening semi-final clash

ILLAWARRA Hawks are just one win away from reaching the 2021 National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series after last year’s wooden spooners toppled the reigning premiers Perth Wildcats by two points (74-72) at RAC Arena last night. In front of 7662 fans, the Hawks had to fight back from a six-point quarter time deficit to then hit the front for only the second time in the match late in the final term and steal the game to move 1-0 up in the series ahead of tomorrow night’s home fixture between the sides at WIN Entertainment Centre.

The big talking point regarding the second placed Wildcats who have been the most dominant team in the past decade, was whether or not they could win the NBL Championship title without star guard and reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Bryce Cotton. With the standout shooter on the sidelines, the Wildcats still went to work early, racing out to a 22-16 lead against the Hawks. The second term saw a tale of two halves as the Wildcats advanced to as much as 13 points at one stage, before some late baskets in favour of the visitors reduced the deficit back to the six points at the main break.

Illawarra managed to keep touch with the Wildcats after half-time, even hitting the front late in the term, only for the Wildcats to steady and ensure the the margin stayed at two plays (four points). The final term was a trading of baskets for the most part, with the Wildcats back out to a six-point advantage with 4:24 on the clock. Five straight points to the Hawks’ Justinian Jessup had the deficit cut to just one with 1:56 remaining. When Mitch Norton only secured one of his two free throws 10 seconds later, Jessup made him pay with a long-range jump shot for the Hawks to hit the front for only the second time in the match.

Justin Simon slammed home a dunk with 20 seconds in the match and the lead was out to three points, and the Hawks suddenly in the box seat for the win. Former Hawk, Todd Blanchfield had other ideas as his layup with 13 seconds remaining cut the deficit back to one, but the Wildcats still needed to find another basket. It was fitting that Jessup was able to put up the final point of the match via a free throw, but a second free thrown missed, and John Mooney picked up the defensive board. With four seconds on the clock and a three-point deficit, the Wildcats opted for the win rather than the draw and extra time, and Blanchfield was trusted with the shot. Unfortunately it missed, and the buzzer sounded with the Hawks winning 74-72.

Perth was more efficient from the field with the key difference coming in the two-point efficiency with a 58 to 45 per cent split, but aside from that, the assists (17-15) and points in the paint (30-28), the stats all went the way of Illawarra. The Hawks won the steals (8-4), blocks (3-1), second chance points (15-11), points from turnovers (12-2) and bench points (21-14), with the rebounds even (41-40), and the Hawks clever with ball-in-hand only committing six turnovers to the Wildcats’ 12.

Simon won Player of the Match for the Hawks with 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals, whilst Jessup’s impact late lead the back court star to 17 points – three of seven from long-range – and four rebounds. Sam Froling (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) did a bit of everything, while Tyler Harvey (10 points, three rebounds) and Tim Coenraad (10 points, three rebounds) also hit the double-figure points.

Blanchfield stood up in the absence of Cotton, shooting six of 12 from long-range for a total of 24 points, three rebounds and two assists. Meanwhile Mooney (13 points, 16 rebounds) produced a massive double-double including 14 of those rebounds defensive, and Luke Travers (12 points, six rebounds and two assists) both finished with double-digit points. Norton (seven points, three assists and two rebounds) and Jesse Wagstaff (six points, three rebounds and two assists) also contributed strongly.

Tomorrow night’s second game at the WIN Entertainment Centre starts at 5:30pm AEST with the Hawks able to close out the series, or the Wildcats responding with a win and forcing a third game back at RAC Arena on Monday.

Picture credit: NBL Media