Tag: Dean Vickerman

NBL 2021: Grand Final series – Stats analysis

ONLY days away from Game 3 of the Grand Final series and both Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats are preparing for an epic battle. In this analysis we will break down the statistics from Game 1 and Game 2 and analyse what each side needs to do if they are to claim Game 3.

Game 1 StatS:

Perth Wildcats were so close to getting the chocolates in Game 1 but fell short by three points as Melbourne United kickstarted their premiership tilt. The game was incredibly close on the scoreboard and the statistics mirrored that with not much separating the two sides in the end. Melbourne shot marginally better from the field with a 40 per cent conversion rate thanks to their 30 shots from 75 attempts in comparison to Perth’s 39 per cent. They also had the upper hand when it came to scoring from within the arc boasting a 50 per cent strike rate while the Wildcats sat at 42 per cent. But the tables turned when it came to letting go from long range as Perth imposed themselves with a 36 per cent clip as opposed to Melbourne’s 27 per cent, despite both sides nailing nine triples apiece.

United recorded two more intercepts than their opponents in Game 1 with 42 to their name in comparison to 40 while they also had more assists than Perth (17-13). Perth had their moments in defence collecting seven steals to six but their sloppy hands and costly turnovers came back to bite them as the home side coughed up the ball 17 times, while United treasured possession with just 12 turnovers across the board.

In terms of blocks, Melbourne made use of their bigmen racking up five while Perth only managed two but they gave away a couple of unnecessary fouls finishing with 17 to their name in comparison to Perth’s tidy 13. United imposed themselves in close with a whopping 40 of their 73 points coming from in the paint. Their ability to compete and convert was a key reason for their success as they kept the Wildcats to just 26 points. They also impressed when it came to second chance points slotting 13 to six and also flexed their bench depth with 23 points in comparison to 18.

Game 2 Stats:

Shooting percentage seemed to be a major issue for Perth Wildcats in Game 2 only converting at a mere 36 per cent from the field. On the flip-side, Melbourne United imposed themselves sitting at 45 per cent from the field sinking 26 shots out of the 57 attempts. United also held the upper hand specifically looking at two point accuracy albeit marginally with a 47 per cent clip compared to Perth’s 43. Another key shooting difference came in United’s ability to seal the deal from down town converting 10 of their 23 attempts to sit at 43 per cent while it was a very different story for Perth who struggled to find their range with six from 25.

When Perth did get hand to ball they managed to shoot nice and close to the rim, outscoring United when it came to points in the paint with 28 to 22 and also impressed with their second chance points with 15 to eight. Their never-say-die attitude and hustle was a key feature throughout Game 2 as they worked in overdrive to find avenues to the basket credit to Melbourne’s defence. One of the most significant and damaging statistics to come out of the game however was United’s ability to score off the bench. The visitors racked up a whopping 41 bench points while Perth only managed to slot a mere 16 highlighting the stark difference between the two sides and ultimately giving United the upper hand.

Perth narrowly edged out United when it came to rebounds amassing 40 in comparison to Melbourne’s 39, showcasing their ability to contest off the ring while they also had less turnovers (10-11). United impressed with their ball smarts to control proceedings with 17 assists to 13 while their defensive pressure was also obvious as shown through their five steals and four blocks as Perth only managed three and two respectively.

What needs to happen?

The top of the table United are one win away from claiming the ultimate glory and have the opportunity to do so in front of a home crowd. United have won all four games this season at RAC Arena but have been somewhat inconsistent at home against Perth so will be hoping for a big performance. Melbourne have been on the road for a long time now, notching up their 30th day away from home but that has not stopped them from racking up the wins securing eight victories from 10 appearances. Conversely, Perth Wildcats have really struggled to find their form and hit the scoreboard. Having dropped the first two games of the series, the back-to-back premiers will be hoping to dig into their big bag of tricks and find a way to win to push it to Game 4.

Spearheaded by coach Dean Vickerman, United have a wealth of depth at their disposal and will be hoping to exploit that in this match-up. Chris Goulding and Jock Landale will once again be the main focus for the side given their explosive nature both in offence and defence. The bench depth is an area with which United have the upper hand and that has shown in both performances so far this series with the likes of Scotty Hopson, Shea Ili and Jo Lual-Acuil – if available after going down with injury in Game 2 – will be hoping to replicate.

Plagued by injury with MVP Bryce Cotton out of action, Luke Travers missing and Clint Steindl out with a groin complaint, the Wildcats are somewhat the walking wounding while Mitch Norton has hobbled through the past two games. If the Wildcats are to muster up something extraordinary they will need breakout performances from their main two facilitators in Todd Blanchfield and John Mooney. The duo are more than capable of imposing themselves and racking up both the rebounds and points which they will need to do to get Perth over the line.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

United cap off home and away season in style

MELBOURNE United rounded out the home and away season in style, notching up another win over the Adelaide 36ers 102-80 to create some real ladder separation out in top spot on the ladder. It was a resounding win for United, winning every quarter of the match and making light work of the 36ers who simply could not compete with the high level output of Melbourne.

With the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria, United were unable to play their home game in front of a home crowd but that did not seem to stop them from getting the job done. Conversely the loss amounts to Adelaide’s seventh on the trot as the 36ers ended on a disappointing note after showing some promising glimpses to open their 2021 campaign.

Playing their second game for the round, Dean Vickerman opted to start his second unit of players and that move proved to work wonders as Jo Lual-Acuil made his mark early. Lual-Acuil managed to slot six of the first opening points of the game to claim some real ascendancy for United. The veteran in David Barlow also got involved in the action before the 36ers hit back through Daniel Johnson who landed the first points of the game for Adelaide. Moments later Brandon Paul got his hands dirty sinking a layup and the cogs started to turn for the visitors as the margin was back to three points with Tony Crocker doing the heavy lifting thanks to his 10 points. Despite Adelaide’s best efforts United continued to find a way to score opening up an eight point buffer at the break.

The second term rolled around and it was the ever-reliable and explosive Chris Goulding that drew first blood. The captain managed to sink Adelaide hearts with consecutive triples as the lead ballooned out to 17 points. He was not the only one that was finding plenty of the rock as Jock Landale and Scotty Hopson impacted the scoreboard. Johnson was working in overdrive for the 36ers lending his hand both in attack and defence producing 14 points and nine rebounds but it was simply not enough to keep in touch with United.

Holding onto a commanding 13-point lead at the main break United looked to extend that buffer and inflict some more pain. But Adelaide had other plans as they mounted somewhat of a comeback with Keanu Pinder and Crocker finding their groove and having an impact. They cut the deficit back to eight points but that is where it stopped as United once again took charge as Shea Ili and Lual-Acuil imposed themselves to get the game back on their terms winning the quarter 24-21.

The final term rolled around and United were in the box seat. Crocker made the first move draining a triple before Mitch McCarron came to life for the top of the table United. There were plenty of moments for the 36ers early in the quarter but the class and endurance of United shone through as they ground their opponents down and managed to find a way to score time and time again producing 25 points while keeping their opponents to 19. It was a strong win for Melbourne who ran out 22-point victors, leading from the opening minutes to the end of the match.

Both Hopson and Landale proved to have a hot hand for United sinking 19 points apiece. Landale fell just short of a double-double thanks to his nine rebounds to accompany his 19 points as Hopson managed two rebounds. Lual-Acuil continued his hot form thanks to his 16 points at 70 per cent from the field while Goulding finished the match with 12 points and five assists to his name. Ili was a force to be reckoned with amassing 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists as Mason Peatling also chimed in with a handy eight points, six rebounds and three assists. Crocker was the go-to man for Adelaide sinking 27 points and five rebounds while Johnson providing good support nailing 18 points and 13 rebounds. Paul was the only other player to reach double figures with 14 points at 45 per cent from the field.

Photo credit: Daniel Kalisz

Melbourne return the favour, clinch postseason berth against Perth

EXACTING a bit of revenge and returning the favour from their last encounter, Melbourne United went to RAC Arena last night and defeated a red-hot Perth Wildcats, 99-91, extending their lead at the top of the NBL ladder in their pursuit of the minor premiership and home court advantage in the finals, as well as being the first team in the NBL to clinch a postseason position.

In a first quarter filled with drama and controversial calls, Chris Goulding lit up RAC Arena to get things underway. Nailing three three-pointers in the opening three minutes, Goulding helped United to an advantageous 19-9 lead causing Trevor Gleeson to call a quick timeout to try and settle his team’s nerves.

Before the visitors could run off with the game in the opening term, a big knock-down three from Bryce Cotton balanced out the scales a bit and after 10 minutes the Wildcats were only down 21-28 to begin the second.

It took a little longer than expected, but Perth’s duo of Cotton and John Mooney started to make an impact. The game briefly became tied with three minutes remaining in the half, before Shea Ili weaved his way in for a layup and Yudai Baba converted his own And-One.

Melbourne went into the main break with a modest 51-46 lead after a brief scare in the second, making 54 per cent of their shots and fighting their way to a 18-12 lead on the glass in rebounds. For Perth, they took care of the ball well in the initial two periods and made most of their damage down low in the paint on the offensive end, putting 24 of their points on the board in the key.

To best describe the third quarter, you would call it a slug fest as both sides swung momentum either way prior to the fourth. Mitch McCarron and Jock Landale gave all the additional support that United could handle, as Perth tried their best to stay calm and chip away at their deficit.

The visitors were momentarily reassured with an eight-point lead at the final break (76-68), but if there was a team to make the lead change happen at the death, it was the Wildcats by a mile. Goulding had 21 big points leading up to this stage in the game and Dean Vickerman needed to make sure his star shooter continued his good shooting into the fourth and final quarter.

Perth’s faithful continued to hold out for a fourth quarter run, however unfortunately it did not come before the final buzzer with Melbourne holding their heads high in enemy territory as eight-point winners and with 99 points next to their name, the most ever scored by United at RAC Arena.

Somehow Melbourne could not quite figure out how to contain Perth near the rim, giving up 48 points in the paint and allowing the Wildcats to convert on 58 per cent of their two-point opportunities. On the flip side, the visitors were big in their outside shooting, knocking down 40 per cent of their three-point opportunities, as well as being superior in areas such as second chance points (11-9), points from turnovers (20-15) and points off the bench (34-14).

There were no doubts that Goulding had a mission in mind prior to tip off and his numbers showed this last night, as the marquee player put up 26 points and four rebounds along with four threes. Landale finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists while McCarron strung together 14 points and six assists. Baba also made his mark with 11 points.

If the combination of both Cotton and Mooney is a power couple, then the pair’s numbers last night proved just how true that notion is. Cotton’s 24 points and three assists were nothing to sneeze at last night despite the loss, but Mooney’s 24 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals were purely awesome for those in attendance. Mitchell Norton played well in the starting role with 12 points and three rebounds, meanwhile Todd Blanchfield was relatively absent with only nine points under his belt.

Perth can jump back into contention for top spot given the limited time left in the season if they can topple the Brisbane Bullets in Queensland tomorrow afternoon and possibly cement their top two position if results fall favourably across the league this weekend. For United, they look to make their crosstown rival South East Melbourne Phoenix’s path to the postseason a little bit more difficult, when the Throwdown takes place at John Cain Arena on Sunday.

United may have lost to the Wildcats, but are they still top dogs?

AS far as winning streaks go, Melbourne United’s 11-game victory run between Rounds 10 and 16 was a very respectable track record to have heading into the postseason. But following Wednesday night’s outcome between United and the Perth Wildcats, Melbourne’s moniker as clear-cut favourites is being threatened.

Dean Vickerman’s side suffered a 28-point drubbing to the Sydney Kings on March 19, and since then Melbourne has been simply unstoppable at both home and on the road.

With their first triumph of the double-digit winning streak coming at home against the Illawarra Hawks, Melbourne then conquered back-to-back fixtures against the New Zealand Breakers and cross-town rivals the South East Melbourne Phoenix before knocking over the Cairns Taipans in a home and away fixture in Round 12.

After defeating the Breakers and the Hawks once again, as well as the Brisbane Bullets in Rounds 13 and 14, United had a singular outing in Round 15. This game would see Melbourne squeeze out a hard-fought win over an Adelaide 36ers roster that is in the midst of pursuing a top four spot and a postseason berth, 92-78, extending their winning streak to nine games.

Most recently in Round 16, United participated in a three-game week matching up against the Breakers, Kings, and the Wildcats all at home. Melbourne looked sublime nine days ago, convincingly blowing by New Zealand with a double-digit win to start off the round. Four days would go by before Melbourne exacted a bit of revenge over their long-time foes in Sydney, demolishing the finals contenders by a mountainous 25 points and logging their eleventh straight win on the trot.

The main event, however, would be saved for the last matchup of the Round 16 fixtures with Melbourne hosting the two-time defending NBL champion Wildcats, who were in desperate need of a bounce back win.

Both teams had split their first two meetings of the NBL21 season, but Melbourne were the first to land a punch on Wednesday night leading after quarter time. Being led by their star pickup in the offseason, John Mooney, Perth quickly picked up steam and never looked back. Scoring 20 points more than Melbourne in the latter three quarters (70-50), Bryce Cotton, despite his recent shooting slump, helped the Wildcats to end United’s impressive winning streak winning 82-69, snapping their opponents’ run of success at 11 games and preventing them from reaching the dozen mark.

The win by Perth called many into question just how likely Melbourne are to make it through two postseason series. As it stands, United (21 wins and six losses) currently hold the two-and-a-half-game lead at the top of the ladder over the Wildcats (19 wins and seven losses), but with the two teams to meet at least two more times, home court advantage still hangs in the balance for the NBL’s premiere outfits.

Looking to get the Victorian side there, is Melbourne’s captain and leader Chris Goulding. Averaging 15.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and over three triples, the 32-year-old is also shooting the lights out with his field goal percentage at 42 per cent, his three-point success rate at 40 per cent and 90 per cent from the free throw line. If Goulding can continue his spectacular run of form in this second half of the season, United can re-establish their superiority in the standings as a reward from his good play.

Backed by the vast talent of Jock Landale, Goulding has a supporting cast that is certainly capable of driving this side all the way to a potential championship. For Landale, he is continuing a solid season into the twilight stretches of the campaign. Despite now ranking second in team scoring, the 211-cm Center is totalling at least 15.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game at a 52 per cent shooting rate each time out, he is up there as one of the most efficient scorers in the competition.

Other key contributors keep producing at a high rate, highlighted by individuals such as Scotty Hopson (11.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists) who is now cementing himself within the rotation after some time off with injury, and Mitch McCarron (11 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds) who is yet to miss a game this season with 27 appearances.

Jo Lual-Acuil has been attaining frequent starts on a consistent basis, serving as a twin tower next to Landale and for good reason. Lual-Acuil accumulates double-doubles at will averaging 9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 52 per cent shooting as the imposing center completes his second season at United. Excluding those who have been named, Yudai Baba, Shea Ili, David Barlow and Sam McDaniel will get ample opportunity to see out the rest of the regular season to try and secure the minor premiership over the next five rounds.

Speaking of which, Round 17 begins on Saturday for Melbourne when they face off with the Phoenix. United will then square up against the Wildcats again in Round 18 before clashing with Cairns, Illawarra, Brisbane, Sydney, and Adelaide before the season’s end.

NBL21 is starting to come to a head, and the race for the top spot is ramping up. Whether Melbourne can handle the pressure and secure the coveted home court advantage for finals will be seen in the coming month, unless Perth can pull back the distance between themselves and the league frontrunners.

Picture credit: Melbourne United Twitter

United back to peak form, will they carry it into the NBL21 finals?

FOR the better part of their NBL21 campaign, Melbourne United has been widely regarded as the team to beat by the other eight sides. But since the turn of mid-season that moniker is being pulled in two different directions with the Victorian side and last year’s champions Perth Wildcats sharing the top of the ladder.

But with the last leg of games still to be played, United have all but locked up another postseason appearance, sitting more than five wins ahead of the Illawarra Hawks who currently sit in fourth position on the rankings. Nevertheless, these upcoming matches for Dean Vickerman’s squad will remain tremendously important, as there is little more valuable to a side than going into the finals with good form on their side.

Going all the way back to mid-January, Melbourne’s 24-point thrashing of the Adelaide 36ers was the perfect precursor for how United’s season was going to go, setting up what would be a lengthy unbeaten run to kick off the fixture. The 2020 semi-finalists then earned wins over the Cairns Taipans, South East Melbourne Phoenix, Brisbane Bullets, Illawarra Hawks and Perth Wildcats, capping off a six-game streak from the opening round – the best start to the season from any side across the competition.

Melbourne’s first blemish on their win-loss record came surprisingly on opening night of the inaugural NBL Cup against the Wildcats, who they had defeated just a couple of weeks prior. This loss reminded United not to rest on their laurels given their exemplary start and also how potent the two-time defending premiers still were. United quickly returned to their expected form with four straight victories following their first loss.

If Melbourne had continued their stellar results leading up to today, no one would even question any other team being on their level. But after attaining a ridiculous 10 wins for one loss start to the season, Melbourne conceded their second loss of the campaign to the Bullets to end Round 8. Afterwards, they would then suffer their third loss to the Phoenix, then a fourth to the Hawks, and a fifth to the Sydney Kings. Melbourne’s four-game losing streak quickly produced more doubters as the Wildcats started to close the gap on the ladder leaders.

United’s four losses during the NBL Cup saw them lock up fourth position in the tournament standings below Perth, South East Melbourne and Brisbane – a serious dark patch in what is looking to be a very successful NBL21 for Chris Goulding and his teammates.

Light has certainly been found at the end of United’s mid-season tunnel, having strung together a winning streak of seven games leading up to today since Round 10. Melbourne also sits half a game above Perth with the final lot of games to play, and with home-court advantage on the line come finals, the two sides will be putting their best foot forward to secure that minor premiership.

United has shown this season that there are three main weapons to their team structure. First up is Goulding’s ability to score anywhere on the floor efficiently and quickly which has served the team captain well for numerous years now. Goulding may not be the roster’s top scorer currently, but the 32-year-old has had some awesome scoring nights this season and his 16.2 points per game is evidence this.

A consistent and reliable participant on the floor as well as the second weapon of Melbourne’s three-pronged attack, Mitch McCarron has played all 22 of the team’s games this season (one of three Melbourne players not to miss a game). With this, McCarron has also produced solid numbers averaging 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and almost one and a half steals per outing.

Another player to have appeared in all 22 of United’s contests is Jock Landale and he has well and truly taken the league by storm. Averaging a team-high 16.5 points, 8.2 rebounds on 52 per cent shot success from the field, Landale is arguably Coach Vickerman’s biggest and most potent weapon. The big man is also dishing at almost two and a half assists per game and has accumulated eight double-doubles since the beginning of the season.

After losing Jack White (9.1 points and 6.0 rebounds) to a season-ending Achilles injury, the title contenders suffered a big blow to their squad rotation. However, with Scotty Hopson (12 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists) possibly returning and Sam McDaniel (4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds) back on the hardwood, Melbourne can use their depth to their fullest extent in running their opponents off the court. Additional weapons like import Yudai Baba (8.1 points and 2.1 rebounds) and big-man Jo Lual-Acuil (7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds) will also need to be clicking from here on in, as the end of the campaign approaches and especially once the postseason arrives.

Melbourne will have the chance to further consolidate their top-four dominance when they face the Hawks on Sunday, looking for their ninth home win in 11 matches. United then host the struggling 36ers in Round 15, who are running out of time to make their way into the top four and will need to defeat the Victorian side to start that uphill climb.

The NBL has also released the remaining fixtures for all nine teams. For information regarding the 14 games that Melbourne United are yet to play – CLICK HERE.

Hawks reaffirm notion as title contender, overcome United by eight

MELBOURNE United’s lead at the top of the NBL standings has become ever more precarious, after being handed their third-straight defeat during what has been a thoroughly disappointing NBL Cup stint. Their most recent downfall came at the hands of the title-contending Illawarra Hawks, who held United to a nine-point fourth quarter as they left John Cain arena with their heads held high, bewildering their opponents 77-69.

In the battle between first and third, the opening period provided no indicators of which team might start to tilt the balance in their favour, as Melbourne held a delicate 21-20 lead. However with Illawarra shooting over 50 per cent from the field, the Hawks were looking very impressive heading into the second.

Despite a slow start to the second period, United started to ramp up their intensity on the precipice of half time winning the quarter 22-16. That result widened the gap between themselves and the Hawks to seven points – the score being 43-36, as Chris Goulding led all-scorers after 20 minutes with 11 points.

The Hawks had been shooting well in the first two quarters, more efficiently than Melbourne surprisingly, knocking down 45 per cent of their attempts (two per cent higher than United) with Tyler Harvey leading the way on the back of eight points. Illawarra had, however, given the ball away profusely to this stage with nine turnovers next to their name, which in turn had led to 12 points for the hometown team compared to the Hawks two.

Illawarra got the one-point drop on United in the third, 18-17, thanks to the efforts made by their sharpshooter Justinian Jessup and big man Sam Froling who was big on the boards, but Cameron Bairstow was a surprise contributor with his production on the scoreboard.

If there is one thing in common about any one of Brian Goorjian’s teams, it is that they will fight for all four quarters and that is where the major moment of the contest occurred, as Illawarra kicked off the fourth with a nine-point run and took a five-point lead with just over six minutes left on the clock.

Mitch McCarron ended the scoring run, but from that point on Dean Vickerman’s side was playing catchup basketball through to the final buzzer as Jock Landale, Sam McDaniel and Mason Peatling would be the only other scorers for the rest of the fourth quarter.

Melbourne would not find their lead again after being held to just nine points in the fourth, whereas Illawarra amassed 21 of their own putting on a defensive masterclass and emerging victorious by eight points – a perfect example of the brand of basketball their head coach likes to play.

The Hawks’ shooting was not anything to wonder at given they would finish with a shooting rate of 42 per cent. But, scoring 14 points from the free throw line at a solid conversion rate of 82 per cent, Illawarra found this to be the best way to separate themselves from their opponents. On the other hand, Melbourne found the majority of their success in the paint scoring 38 of their points in the paint (six more than Illawarra).

Harvey was consistent and effective all night long during his 35 minutes of playing time scoring 23 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists with Bairstow shocking everyone for 15 points of his own. Jessup was good from behind the arch with three triples to his name and 13 points, while Deng Adel failed to score a point but was good for six rebounds.

Representing their second half failures and one of their lowest offensive showings, not one United player would crack 20 points individually. The next closest to this feat was McCarron, who assembled 16 points and four assists, then followed by Goulding (13 points) and Landale (12 points and eight rebounds) who had unremarkable nights in comparison to previous efforts.

Melbourne will leave their city for the first time in weeks as they prepare to face their rivals the Sydney Kings next Friday in New South Wales, with teams now looking to make a late charge for the postseason. The Hawks, however, will stay in Victoria for another week to prepare for a rematch with United seven days from today.

 

Picture credit: AAP

United create more space at the top of the table, knock off Kings by 3

MANY would have thought that after the Sydney Kings’ strong first quarter against Melbourne United on Saturday night, they were going to see things through in the following three terms.

This was not the case, as Melbourne emerged victorious in each of the last three quarters and would ultimately win the contest 83-80 at John Cain Arena in last night’s closer – tightening their grip on the rest of the competition with their ninth win of the season.

It is always a fun clash for the fans when these two rosters face off with one another, but it would be the Kings that gained the upper advantage early, going up by 12 in enemy territory at the turn of the first quarter, thanks to the combined work of Dejan Vasiljevic and Casper Ware.

Being a consistent force throughout the first half as a whole, Shaun Bruce maintained not only a good shooting stroke from the field, but he also passed the rock exceptionally ending his first two quarters of play with nine points and three assists. On the flip side for United though, it was noticeable that their frontcourt was going to need to be the difference in last night’s closer and as they trailed 34-43 at half time, it was evident that Dean Vickerman’s side were running out of minutes and options.

Another strong middle quarter followed Melbourne’s second term, winning the third 10-minute stretch 24-17 and cutting their deficit down to just two points with a quarter to play and a raucous Melbourne supporter base urging them forward in the fourth.

A hectic final two minutes in the concluding period would ensue with Shea Ili putting Melbourne up by six points following a corner three to get those in attendance on their feet. Two consecutive baskets from Ware, however, brought the game back to a single point, before Scotty Hopson returned fire with one of his own.

Ware backed up his superb fourth period after nailing another basket with 40 seconds remaining to cut the margin to one point once again. But after Ware missed out on a final chance in the last 24 seconds, the Kings would fail to draw even or get ahead in the end, as two more free throws by way of Jock Landale polished off a strong-looking Kings outfit by a mere three points.

In a game that could have easily gone either way, Melbourne’s 38 points in the paint most likely proved to be the difference maker in the long run compared to Sydney’s 28. However, it is also worth mentioning United’s 32 bench points, showing just how imperative Melbourne’s secondary unit was in the win.

Adding another game to his well-decorated belt of performances, Landale was spectacular with 20 points and eight rebounds going 57 per cent from the field. Off the bench, Hopson was showing hints of his old form from last season, with a solid 14 points, four rebounds and four assists. Meanwhile, other major performers for United also included Mitch McCarron (13 points, six assists and five rebounds), Ili (12 points and three rebounds), Jo Lual-Acuil (five points and 10 rebounds) and Yudai Baba (11 points and three rebounds).

Vasiljevic (22 points and four three-pointers), Ware (21 points, five assists and four rebounds) and Bruce (17 points, three rebounds and three assists) all recorded over 15 points, as the trio devastated Melbourne’s defenders constantly. Brad Newley was also another individual to have a memorable performance in what was classic performance from the veteran, with 10 points and eight rebounds in his side’s loss.

Melbourne’s dominance of NBL21 will move forward to next Friday in Round 8 when United take on Hopson’s old side, the New Zealand Breakers, while Sydney will look to push the Cairns Taipans further down the ladder with another win over the North-Queensland side come Thursday night.

NBL21 mid-season summaries: Top 4

AS we approach the sixth round of this year’s National Basketball League (NBL) campaign, the nine teams vying for the four postseason seeds now have a clearer picture of where they currently sit and what objectives need to be tackled, in order to put themselves in the best position possible to secure a semi-final berth.

Draft Central delves into a summary of how each team has performed up to this point and who their key contributors have been following Round 5. Here are the summaries of the teams currently sitting in the top four.

1st – Melbourne United
Record: 6 wins, 0 losses, % – 1.000

Back in late-December, single-year signee Jock Landale stated that United has the “potential to go undefeated,” and given how Dean Vickerman’s side has performed up to this point, that estimate seems to be becoming more and more realistic.

Opening up their season with a dominant 24-point win against fellow top-four competitor the Adelaide 36ers, Melbourne began their season with their best foot first.

Following their first result, United backed up their start 10 days later edging out the Taipans at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena 87 to 85 and could look forward to going back home with two wins under their belt. Four more victories against cross-town rivals South East Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Illawarra rounded out United’s picture-perfect start to the season and are now hosting the defending champions this coming Saturday, looking to knock off the Wildcats one more time.

Chris Goulding is continuing his NBL legacy in fine form leading his side on the scoreboard once again, averaging a decent 16.8 points per game as well as a few rebounds each time out (3.2). Providing top-notch service on the glass, Landale is doing exactly what he was brought on board to do, collecting over 15 points and seven rebounds per game.

Further adding to the team’s success are two more new signings with former Duke Blue Devil Jack White and former New Zealand Breaker Scotty Hopson providing large amounts of scoring, rebounds and assists between the pair. White ranks third on the team in scoring (10.3) and second in rebounding (6.8), whereas Hopson seeds fourth in scoring (9.8) and second in assists (3.8) adding multiple weapons for Melbourne to utilise going forward.

 

2nd – Illawarra Hawks
Record: 5 wins, 2 losses, % – 0.714

Taking into account that the Illawarra Hawks have gone through a roster makeover, appointed a new head coach, undergone two franchise name changes and have averaged 88 points per game, the Wollongong-based team have had an event-filled past six months.

Illawarra’s good fortunes for the season began with two back-to-back victories in the space of three days, firstly knocking over the Bullets and then the Taipans in what was a rout of the two Queensland sides. New coach Brian Goorjian kept his cool following a wonderful 2-0 start to the season and stuck to his “defence-first” basketball mentality, which in turn yielded similar results as the Hawks managed wins once again against Brisbane and Cairns.

Identical results would not follow the team down south to Victoria, as Illawarra faced their first and second tastes of disappointment, losing out to the Phoenix and then United. But, an 85-82 victory over the Sydney Kings has reasserted them as powerful contender for NBL21 before their Round 6 double-header against the Taipans and the Breakers this week.

Taking the league by storm, Tyler Harvey has dismantled every team that he has crossed to date, which has led to an average of 21.8 points per contest (third highest in the NBL). The frontcourt duo of Cameron Bairstow and Sam Froling have dominated the rebounding battles each week with the two grabbing 11 points per game each and at least 7.8 and 7.7 rebounds respectively, while Justinian Jessup is impressing many with his sharpshooting this season, averaging 14.7 points.

 

3rd – Adelaide 36ers
Record: 5 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.556

Having already played nine games to date, the Adelaide 36ers have played the most games out of any other team this season – meaning that each game between now and the end of the season mean a little more. After frustratingly missing out on the postseason in the 2019/20 season, Adelaide looks poised to rectify last season’s missed opportunities and certain rookies are proving to be invaluable when the side is in good form.

Splitting the difference between the two Melbourne-based sides to open their season, then suffering a second loss to the Phoenix, the Sixers found themselves with just one win from three games. Making some schematic alterations to his playbook, Conner Henry helped his team to a winning streak of three following triumphs over New Zealand twice and then the Kings to conclude Round 3, before Sydney returned the favour in Round 4. Adelaide then split results with the Brisbane Bullets in Round 5 leading to the current record of five wins and four losses.

Before their matchup with Sydney on Sunday, it was clear that Adelaide’s successes came primarily from their bigs, more specifically Daniel Johnson and Isaac Humphries. Johnson’s reign down low has been essentially unmatched averaging 21.3 points and six rebounds, as Humphries has been almost as potent averaging 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks (highest in NBL). Import Tony Crocker’s 10 points per game are the 36ers third highest amount from an individual, while young gun Josh Giddey is making a name for himself in his rookie season, leading the team in assists with 5.8 per game and contributing 9.2 points a contest in the process.

 

4th – South East Melbourne Phoenix
Record: 4 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.500

The best way to describe South East Melbourne’s start to their season would be the team absorbing one punch and then doling one out themselves, as in their back-to-back encounters with Adelaide and then Perth, the Phoenix would lose out in the first game then win the second. Testament to this pattern, the Phoenix started the season with a record of two wins and two losses looking to pick up their performances upon their return to Victoria.

Annoyingly for the league’s newest club they lost their derby meeting and local bragging rights against Melbourne United, 90-96, in their second game of Round 3. However, a motivating win over the Illawarra Hawks (98-82) put some wind in Simon Mitchell’s sails, before once again splitting the results against the Wildcats in Round 5, which was enough to secure them the fourth seed in the standings at this point of the season by half a game in front of the Kings (three wins and four losses).

As expected, Mitch Creek is setting the benchmark in scoring for the Phoenix, totalling 18.5 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game this season. Closely following him is Keifer Sykes who maintains averages of 18 points, seven assists and 4.5 rebounds. The only other double-digit scoring contributors for South East Melbourne are Kyle Adnam and rookie Yannick Wetzell, providing 13.8 and 10.4 points apiece.

Mid-Season team summaries for the remaining five clubs will be released tomorrow on Draft Central.

United make it half a dozen wins with three-point Hawks triumph

MELBOURNE United has remained undefeated in the 2021 National Basketball League (NBL) season, knocking off the Illawarra Hawks, 91-88. In the first game returning to the WIN Entertainment Centre, as well as returning Illawarra back to the club’s name, the Hawks were up for the fight early, and never gave in throughout one of the most entertaining contests.

The unbeaten United and determined Hawks put on a scoring frenzy in the opening term, piling on a whopping 67 points in the first quarter. Melbourne led 36-31 at the first break, before greater defensive intensity saw the team’s scoring drop after quarter time. The home team cut the deficit to just two points at the main break courtesy of a 24-21 term, and by the final break, just one point separated the sides.

The final term was neck-and-neck but United managed to hold off the Hawks and never surrender the lead. Illawarra did get within a point early, but the visitors quickly raced out to as much as a six-point lead midway through the term. Back-to-back baskets had the Hawks within two again, and the match really tightened up with both teams missing some chances and applying red-hot defensive pressure forcing mistakes. But when Jack White produced a layup with two minutes on the clock, the lead was out to five points.

Successful free-throws from Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup drew the Hawks to within just one point with 91 seconds on the clock and it was game on. Melbourne United had a couple of chances to extend the lead, but it was White who again became the saviour with 37 seconds on the clock thanks to a driving layup. Harvey missed the same chance up the other end with 12 seconds remaining, White grabbed the board and soon the final buzzer sounded with United up 91-88.

United made the most of its long-range chances, dropping 13 of 29 at 44 per cent compared to the Hawks’ nine of 28 at 32 per cent. The visitors also led the assists (18-14), but Illawarra was ahead in most other statistical areas such as rebounds (45-39), steals (8-4), blocks (7-4), points in the paint (40-26) and second chance points (18-9).

Scotty Hopson finally found the form many expected of the boom recruit, narrowly missing out on a double-double in his best game this season. Hopson put up 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists in the win, making three of five from long range. Mitch McCarron earned Player of the Match honours thanks to his 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the win. White only scored four points – the last of the match for his team – but had six rebounds and three blocks. Jock Landale (10 points, four rebounds), David Barlow (nine points, four assists and two rebounds) and Mason Peatling (nine points, five rebounds) were also productive.

For Illawarra, Jessup (24 points, two blocks) and Harvey (22 points, 10 rebound and three assists) did all the scoring damage, while Sam Froling recorded a double-double off the boards thanks to 16 points and 11 rebounds – five offensive – three assists and three blocks. Cameron Bairstow came off the bench for seven points, six rebounds and four assists in a handy 20-minute stint.

Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman described the game as “tough” and credited a host of players such as Peatling stepping up when Landale ran into foul trouble, and McCarron captaining the side and leading from the front.

“First half both teams were scoring freely and you know going into the game I was like ‘are we going to make enough frees tonight and then I looked at the stats sheet and we had 10 made threes at the half and the ball was moving really well, we were just disappointed with the way we were rebounding, and it was a bit of a constant throughout the night,” he said. “I thought we made a bit of a change in the middle of the third quarter, and limited their second chance points which they’re a good rebounding team, they crash hard.

“They have two amazing players in (Tyler) Harvey and (Justinian) Jessup, who are amazing scorers. “We worked so hard on them tonight to make everything as tough as possible but credit to those guys, they were really touch. We made some big defensive plays down the stretch, without the players we were missing tonight, it was great to see others step up.”

Illawarra Hawks coach Brian Goorjian said the result did not go their way, but he was proud of the entire organisation and the supporter base.

“I thought the whole organisation really when you look at it, when you look at the crowd, when you look at the playing group and what went on tonight when you first walk in the door here,” he said. “Six months ago or five months ago, whatever it was, having the name back, having the crowd like that. “There was so much energy in the building and I’m certainly not hanging my head and nor is my team about their performance.

“There’s certainly disappointment, we’re playing the best team in the league, undefeated. Had a good chance tonight, we knew that coming in. “We had to get certain things done to do that, and we’re just not quite there yet.”

Melbourne United hosts Cairns Taipans at Bendigo on Saturday evening, while Illawarra Hawks travel to Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday to lock horns with Sydney Kings.

Picture credit: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

United continue their winning ways despite Bullets best shot

ROUND four action kicked off at the Armoury as an enthralling game saw Melbourne United eventually prevail against a relentless Brisbane Bullets outfit 109-96. With both teams looking to continue their winning streaks, it was an arm-wrestle from the very beginning as Shea Ili rolled his ankle in early proceedings and forced United coach Dean Vickerman to stray from their winning formula.

Star import Vic Law and Brisbane captain Nathan Sobey were vital to their side’s two Round 3 wins, both averaging 28 points per game, and both had to bring that same play to give their side a chance at handing United their first loss for the season.

The opening term immediately provided back and forth action with sharp-shooters Chris Goulding and Jason Cadee trading threes in early stages. After shooting 0/8 in their last matchup, out-of-form recruit Scotty Hopson started the exact opposite of the way he would have liked with two turnovers. Unlike Sunday’s game, however, he maintained a positive body language and let the game come to him as he played a role at both ends of the court.

Melbourne’s defence inside with Jack White and Jock Landale has been a feature through their games thus far, but Tyrell Harrison and the Bullets sought to attack it and make Landale accountable on the defensive rotations.

A strong finish to the quarter saw them hold a 31-26 lead over Melbourne as both teams enjoyed an even spread of scorers. Sobey had three assists from pick and roll actions, drawing the inside defender and lobbing over the top.

Vickerman was unhappy with the United defence early in the second, but it was up the other end where Jo Lual-Acuil was firing, boasting 11 points with much of the first half to play. This play enabled Melbourne to stay within arms-length of Brisbane, as a tighter finish saw the Bullets lead at one point heading into the main break.

A 52-51 score line meant it was the highest combined points total in a first half for NBL21, indicative of the offensive firepower on display. Both teams were shooting better than 50 per cent but it was Melbourne’s 24 bench points and efficiency from deep which was keeping them in the game. Sobey said that if they tightened up on some of those walk-in threes, they would be in a lot better stead.

The third quarter saw United come out firing as Hopson started to gain some confidence and make some shots. A pair of offensive rebounds and a basket capped of a 12-2 United run as Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis called a timeout.

After the lights went out in the Nissan Arena momentarily, Brisbane managed an 11-3 run of their own to end the quarter at a one-point deficit again. Sobey led the fightback as he showed why many thought he was perhaps unlucky to miss out on Olympic Boomers squad selection.

As if the offensive display was not enough through three quarters of play, a three-point contest was sparked to begin the fourth quarter with none other than Goulding kicking it off with a pair of deep makes. Law, Landale, and Orlando Johnson also got in on the action. A 7-0 Brisbane run threatened, before nine consecutive Melbourne points all but iced the game.

Despite a valiant Sobey’s best efforts, another pair of Goulding splashes held the Bullets foray as they came out 13-point victors. Goulding led the United scoring with 27 points including seven threes (7-11), and said they were lucky to give up 52 first-half points and only be one-point down.

“We [knew we] could be so much better, so we wanted to step on it in the third quarter, had to figure their defence out a little bit and be aggressive, that’s why we’re the best,” Goulding said.

With him a big part of their 50 per cent shooting night from deep, the efforts of Landale cannot be discounted as he went 4-8 from three showing no hesitancy to release the deep ball. He also had 20 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists on the night, showing why he is one of the best big men Australia has. Hopson (16 points, four assists) showed glimpses of his best game, while White and Mitch McCarron each had 10 points.

Sobey (27 points, three assists, six rebounds) and Law (20 points, four assists, seven rebounds) again took most of the workload as Lemanis will be looking for more output from senior players Cadee (five points, 2-7, 32 minutes) and Anthony Drmic (four points, 1-6, 23 minutes).

Melbourne United play Perth Wildcats on Sunday February 7, while the Bullets will enjoy a break before they return to play next Saturday February 13 against the Adelaide 36ers.

Picture credit: AAP