Melbourne United was able to grind out a win against the Brisbane Bullets on Sunday, 102-94. The victory at Melbourne Arena was their third in a row, further consolidating their position as legitimate title defenders.
For the Bullets, it’s the opposite story. Their third loss in a row sees them slip down the ladder, and the defeat was made all the more frustrating by their competitive play for much of the game.
Here are some takeaways from the Sunday afternoon battle.
1. United’s depth
Depth has been a strength all season, and Sunday’s game only further reinforced this fact. With stars Josh Boone and Chris Goulding were playing reduced minutes due to fitness issues, and United once again showed their ability to plug the gaps as they appeared.
Goulding remained incredibly effective even off the bench, and Mitch McCarron and Peter Hooley gave United a spark in his absence. The pair only combined for 6 points, but their vigour and defensive intensity ensured United’s energy remained high, even with their skipper watching on the sidelines. Ware did his usual thing, scoring a game-high 23 points.
— Melbourne United (@MelbUnitedHQ) November 18, 2018
Pledger also made his mark on the game’s outcome, showing once again that Melbourne got a steal with his signature. Within ten minutes, he scored 10 points and secured 5 rebounds, more than covering for Boone’s sporadic absence in the second half.
Not only does United’s depth allow them to cover for injuries, it also gives them incredible strategic flexibility. They often switched from a small-ball to traditional lineup throughout the course of the game, particularly in the fourth quarter.
“We tried a little bit of both [approaches] tonight,” said United coach Dean Vickerman after the game.
“It’s something you see more and more in this league, so you’ve got to be good at either one.”
United are showing signs of being masters of this skill.
2. Brisbane’s costly turnovers
Whilst both teams finished the game with a similar number of turnovers (United had 12 vs Brisbane’s 15), the Bullet’s felt their pain more acutely. They often came at costly moments and Melbourne was far more adept at punishing their opponent’s mistakes. The Bullets barely returned the favour, scoring only 10 points off turnovers to United’s 26.
In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter the Bullets turned the ball over three times. Although Melbourne wasn’t able to score from these turnovers, they completely killed any momentum Brisbane was building.
“We contributed to our own demise at the end of the day,” said Brisbane coach Andrej Lemanis after the game.
“Turnovers seemed to come at key moments, when he had a chance to build a little momentum, or expand a lead, or [when] we had just got a stop.”
Luckily for the Bullets, turnovers are something they can control. If they want to have any chance of being relevant toward the business end of the season, this needs to be addressed.
3. Brisbane shoots the lights out, but not much else
Perhaps the biggest positive to come from Brisbane’s defeat was their shooting. As a team they shot 44.1% as a team from beyond the three-point arc, sinking 15 triples to United’s 8. Although there were some lucky shots that inflated the numbers slightly, in general they were good shots generated by intelligent ball movement. Adam Gibson and Cameron Gliddon led the Bullet’s long-range onslaught, hitting 5 and 4 threes respectively.
— NBL (@NBL) November 18, 2018
However, Brisbane’s liberal approach to their perimeter offence on Sunday was perhaps also a result of their inability to penetrate the paint. The Bullets took 34 shots from long range, compared to only 24 in the painted area. Teams that depend on the three often die by the three, and although poor shooting didn’t contribute to their loss this time, their reliance on long-range shooting could be trouble down the road.
On a side note, Jason Cadee’s shooting woes continued last night. He finished with 0 points from only 2 attempts in 22 minutes. With Adam Gibson’s current form, a change in starting point guard may be around the corner.
4. Melbourne’s balanced offence
While the Bullets did their damage from range, United took a more balanced approach to scoring. Melbourne did the bulk of their damage in the paint, scoring 44 points to Brisbane’s 28. These high-percentage looks were a dependable source of points for United throughout the game.
Brisbane’s big men aren’t known for their lock down defence and shot blocking – Matthew Hodgson and Cameron Bairstow had zero blocks between them last night. Goulding, Ware and Kennedy, among others, were able to get to their spots at will. As an added reward for their efforts, United was able to get to the free throw line 27 times.
Despite taking only comparatively few attempts from three, United converted on 8 of 20 attempts, shooting 40%. Their dependable shooters, such as Barlow and Goulding, opened up the floor for others, allowing United to utilise all aspects of their offence.
Brisbane return home to face Illawarra on Thursday, 7:50 pm AEDT. Melbourne host Sydney on Saturday, 2:50 pm AEDT.