MELBOURNE United are the 2021 National Basketball League (NBL) champions claiming Game 3 in front of a home crowd. Holding top spot for majority of the season, it all came down to whether or not they would get the job done in the big dance and that they did, downing Perth Wildcats by five points (81-76) in an absolute thriller.
After spending 30 days on the road, Melbourne got the chance to play at John Cain Arena and had one thing in mind – to lift the premiership – and that was clear from the opening minutes. Inspired by veteran and United stalwart Chris Goulding, United dug deep to walk away with the chocolates. It was always going to be difficult for the Wildcats who had been dealt their fair share of injuries throughout the series with Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton out of action and Mitch Norton worse for wear. But that return of Luke Travers and Clint Steindl definitely gave the visitors a bit of a pep in their step. However it was not enough to knock United off their perch, imposing themselves in Game 3 much like they did in Game 1 and 2.
The opening quarter started with a bang as Melbourne wasted no time giving their fans plenty to cheer about. An 11 points to two run gifted them a handy lead and the ascendancy, with Goulding finding his stroke from deep nice and early while Mason Peatling got involved in the action. In his first game of the series, Travers showcased how important his inclusion in the Wildcats side was with a couple of early points to keep his side in the hunt. The Wildcats were up to their usual tricks by dominating off the boards picking up 13 rebounds to a mere six but were getting outdone by their opponents when it came to shooting accuracy.
A nine-point differential grew to 10 points as United looked to forge ahead but the Wildcats were not going to let it slip any further as they increased the defensive pressure. Reducing Melbourne’s ability to find their way to the rim, Perth limited their opponents to just five points in over six minutes of play while up the other end they were playing with a wealth of freedom. The Wildcats outscored United 18 to 12, with the likes of Todd Blanchfield having an influence while unfortunately it was curtains for Norton who was forced to the sideline with his continuing hip injury.
When the second half rolled around, only three points separated the two sides with the game looking like it could go either way. United fans hearts dropped when Perth hit the lead thanks to a couple of handy threes from Kevin White and Corey Shervill but the home side were not about to let it slip through their fingers. They rallied with a seven point run to steal the lead back as Scotty Hopson bobbed up alongside Jock Landale and Goulding.
With only quarter left to play it all came down to this. Yudai Baba decided it was his time to have a say draining five points as he pushed his side out to an 11-point margin. But in true Wildcats style they fought back going on a points scoring spree of their own to take things up a notch and make United sweat. John Mooney kept Perth alive with the big man having an influence up both ends of the court while a couple of the veterans for both sides plied their trade. It was a heart in your mouth final minute of play with Blanchfield sending the crowd into raptures after landing a triple to shrink the margin to just three points. But it was Landale that made his mark draining a huge jump shot followed by the icing on the cake from Baba to reign victorious and grant United their second premiership in four years.
It was a game to remember for Landale who not only landed the most crucial shot of the game with less than 40 seconds left on the clock to seal the deal for the home side, but so too walked away with the Larry Sengstock Medal as the Grand Final MVP for his efforts. Landale collected 15 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks in his outing. He alongside Goulding were in hot form throughout the clash as they continued to step up to the plate and deliver. Goulding registered 14 points, four rebounds and two assists. But it was not just a two-man show as a host of other players plied their trade and got the job done for United in a tantalising battle as Peatling showcased his class with 12 points at 83 per cent from the field while Hopson also scored 12 points and picked up three assists. Mitch McCarron was influential off the boards thanks to his seven defensive rebounds as Baba finished with 11 points to his name.
For the Wildcats it was Mooney who was once again the main player in focus recording 14 points and a whopping 13 rebounds for his efforts. White also chimed in with 14 points of his own at 41 per cent from the field as Blanchfield registered a double-double credit to his 11 points and 11 rebounds in an all-round solid performance. On return, Travers was consistent sinking nine points and picking up six rebounds, two assists and a steal while Will Magnay tried hard with his 10 points.
Photo credit: Melbourne United Twitter