No Goulding? No problem.
Led by Casper Ware, Melbourne United put on a scoring clinic for three-quarters against the Illawarra Hawks at Melbourne Arena last night, winning 99-93. Despite their inconsistent start to the season, Melbourne showed what they were capable of offensively, even without their biggest star.
Following their frustrating double overtime lose to the Perth Wildcats on Saturday, United looked to make a point against the Hawks.
With team captain Chris Goulding injured on the sidelines, it was Ware who stepped up to the plate, wasting no time stamping his authority on the game. The guard was unconscious from long-range, almost single-handedly burying the Hawks in the first period. If you were to look up the definition of aggressive in the dictionary that night, you might find Ware’s face staring back at you.
Ware fired without any hesitation, and within the space of three minutes nailed three tough three-pointers, topping the streak off with an incredible contested long bomb in the face of Cedric Jackson. He scored 11 points in the first quarter, and would finish the game with 26 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists. In the end, it was only foul trouble that finally slowed him down.
Speaking after the game, United coach Dean Vickerman was in awe of his guard’s ability to step up to the challenge.
“He’s certainly a guy that senses moments, when [his teammates] really need him, and that’s what you want from your imports.
“It’s just one of the things, is [to] be aggressive,” Ware said after the game. “I started off bad this year [when it came to] shooting, but you can’t think about it. I always want to be aggressive. I think that where I help my team, is being aggressive.”
With Ware at the forefront, United ended the first period with 5 threes from 7 attempts, a barrage that resulted in a 29-16 lead by the end of the first quarter. Despite an Illawarra resurgence which was orchestrated by Brian Conklin across the third and fourth quarters, United’s early onslaught was too much for the Hawks to overcome.
United continued the offensive onslaught for the next two quarters. Although their three-point shooting returned to par, making only 7 of 21 attempts for the rest of the game, the team maintained a steady offensive pressure.
Melbourne’s scoring seemed effortless, as they smoothly transitioned from a perimeter shooting team to a slashing team and back again. They penetrated the Hawks defence over and over again, and their slick ball movement produced a steady stream of open perimeter shots.
Barlow continued his outstanding season, looking like the man who tore it up with the Melbourne Tigers ten years ago. As well as hitting four three-pointers for the game, Barlow didn’t shy away from putting the ball on the floor. He broke down his defenders repeatedly with great dribble moves and drives. He finished the game with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
Mitch McCarron also had a standout game, and continued to show how wise United were to invest in him. McCarron played with an infectious energy which permeated throughout the entire team. His ability to play at a high pace and push the ball quickly up the court, kept the Hawks off-balance, and was crucial in generating high percentage looks for his team.
As well as performing the role of playmaker, he was also lethally efficient with his scoring. Despite only taking 7 shots, he made them all count, ending the game with 14 points to go along with his 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Alex Pledger was another key contributor, doing so in his own characteristically dogged way. Although his impact on the scoreboard wasn’t extraordinary, his effect on the glass was pivotal. His 12 rebounds, including 4 offensive rebounds, were central in providing Melbourne with an interior edge over the Hawks. With Pledger leading the way, United ended the game with a 16-7 offensive rebounding advantage.
“He really is a unique rebounder, he loves it, it’s something that drives him,” said Vickerman. “Other people enjoy points steals assists and different things. For him [it’s] to walk up to the stat sheet and see’s how many rebounds he’s got, because it drives him.”
In the end, it was a sore and hobbled Josh Boone that secured United’s home victory. Boone only stepped onto the floor for 18 minutes, contributing 6 points and 5 rebounds, but he managed to tip the game in United’s favour during those final minutes. As the Hawks closed the gap in the final minutes, getting within 4 points at one point, it was a couple of signature Boone tip-ins that put the final nails in Illawarra’s coffin.
Despite the disappointing loss, Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge sang Boone’s praises after the game.
“That’s what Boone does. Boone’s not ‘throw it into the post and let him operate and make a fancy move’, you know, he’s a worker. Simple as that. He just did his job… He made some big plays, simple as that.”
Melbourne United showed the NBL how dangerous they can be against the Hawks, both collectively, as well as discrete individuals. Their impressive display of scoring and rebounding should have the rest of the league paying close attention.
Melbourne United head north to face the Cairns Taipans next Saturday, and the Hawks continue their road trip against the Sydney Kings on Friday.