MELBOURNE United have opened their season with style, claiming a 24-point victory over Adelaide 36ers at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre last night. United did not have it all their own way, with the nominal National Basketball League (NBL) title favourites defeating the 36ers on opening night, 89-65.
United loaded up on star power over the summer, but it was a team effort that got the job done in the end, with second season guard, Shea Ili earning Player of the Match honours thanks to 13 points and four rebounds, shooting at 62.5 per cent from the field. He was far from alone though, with 11 players taking the court for the victors and everyone scoring at least one point.
Adelaide got off to a great start on the night, leading by four points at the first break, before Melbourne started to find its groove. Daniel Johnson was doing all he could for the home side, but United’s depth was becoming a problem and the visiting team piled on 26 points to 13 in the third term, and then repeated the dose in the final quarter. After trailing by two points at half-time, Melbourne flexed its muscles and scored 52-26 in a complete domination of the 36ers.
Despite Johnson piling on 27 points, five rebounds and two assists, the 36ers’ big man could not do it all, and instead it was the shared load between debutant and talented tall Jock Landale, and rising talent Jo Lual Acuil. The pair combined for 26 points and 20 rebounds, with Acuil being the only player to record a double-double in the game thanks to 16 points and 12 rebounds. Landale showed he has plenty to give with his 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks in an all-round effort.
Captain Chris Goulding stepped up to lead the side with 16 points of his own, as well as three rebounds, three assists and three steals to work hard on both defence and offence, while Japanese import, Yudai Baba made an impact off the bench with 10 points – four from six from the field – and four rebounds. New Zealand Breakers recruit Scotty Hopson did not have the impact he could have had with just the four points and four assists in 22 minutes, though Jack White looked comfortable in the four spot with seven points and seven rebounds.
For the 36ers, Johnson was the only player to hit double-figure points, though Jack McVeigh (nine points, two assists) got close. Young gun Josh Giddey managed the seven points, seven rebounds and four assists, as well as a memorable block close to the rim. Other than them, Keanu Pinder picked up five points and five rebounds, whilst Tony Crocker and Isaac Humphries also managed the five points.
Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman said he felt the team started slow, and then improved their defence in the second term. Whilst still behind on the scoreboard, United was able to work harder on offence and the team got “reward for effort”.
“I thought we started a little sluggish with our defence tonight,” Vickerman said. “We picked it up in the second period. I though there was a group in the middle of the second period that played four or five minutes, held them to four points and when we picked up our defence, we just didn’t reward ourselves at the other end, and I think there was five or six outnumbered breaks that we just didn’t convert.
“I think our half-time talk was just a little bit of anxiety with our offence, and it was to really sit down and try and fight over screens a bit better than we did in the first half and I think once we committed to that, we rewarded ourselves with getting some easy baskets at the other end. “There was definitely a defensive momentum that built, and to hold them to 65 is really pleasing.”
New Adelaide 36ers’ coach Conner Henry said the team needed to have better production on offence, and share the ball around more, having not been able to capitalise ofd second chance opportunities and then falling away on defence in the second half.
“I thought our effort in the first half was real good,” Henry said. “We just couldn’t score the basketball so there’s a lot of work to be done on the offensive end, as evident in the second half. “I don’t know what our one-pass and two-pass possessions were, but we sure didn’t share it with each other.
“Combine that with 19 offensive rebounds, they get 25 shots more on us. “Effort was good, we go 26 and 13, 26 and 13 in the last two quarters, giving up a bunch of points and can’t score the basketball so we’ll watch film. “It will be pretty evident that we have to share the basketball a bit more.”
Adelaide 36ers will hope to bounce back from their loss last night when they take on South East Melbourne Phoenix tomorrow afternoon, whilst Melbourne United have an incredibly long break, not taking to the court for a second time until Monday, January 25 when they travel to Cairns.
Picture credit: AAP IMAGE/David Mariuz