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A night for the imports: 3 takeaways from Melbourne United's victory over Sydney Kings
Last night’s clash between Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings was everything NBL fans could have hoped for. In front of a packed Melbourne crowd, United managed to pull a last-second rabbit out of the hat to defeat the Kings, 84 – 82.
From tip off right up to the finish, the game swung wildly to and back. While United walked away with the win, both team's imports impacted the game's outcome. It was an action-packed game with plenty of storylines. Here are just some of the big takeaways from yesterday’s heavyweight bout.
1. The NBL needs to encourage professional rivalries
Two of the league’s brightest stars lit up Melbourne Arena. The duel between rivals Casper Ware and Jerome Randle had all 10,300 people in attendance on the edge of their seats, and screaming with agony and ecstasy.
Randle, the proud Chicago native finished with a jaw-dropping 35 points, shooting an efficient 68.8% from the field, and knocked down five three-point bombs.
Ware managed an impressive 23 points, conceding the scoring contest to his rival. He made up for it other areas, snatching 5 rebounds and dishing out a game-high 6 assists.
From the opening tip, the pair went at each other relentlessly. Words were exchanged at multiple points in the match, and it all appeared to be in good fun. However, during a verbal sparring match in the second quarter, the referees attempted to intervene. Although no punishments were handed out by the referees, the moment was something Randle was quick to challenge after the game.
“Everybody [has] to understand that you have to give guys the chance to play aggressive and have some fun out there.
"It's a man's game out there and there is nothing that is going to get out of hand as we are actually close friends. We are going to compete and try to knock each other's heads off if we have to but let us play basketball, that's how people compete where we are from."
When words can be backed up by action, the NBL has a recipe for top-notch entertainment. It is professional rivalries like between Ware and Randle that the league needs to embrace. The NBL has a habit of prematurely extinguishing moments, especially ones similar to those we saw yesterday. In reality, last night was what fans pray to see when they buy their tickets. Play on.
2. Kennedy: Melbourne’s problem solver
Early this season, dark clouds hung over American import DJ Kennedy. Fairness aside, Kennedy was being measured against very high standards, especially when he was coming in as Casey Prather's replacement.
After a shaky start to his NBL career, Kennedy is emerging as one of United's most important and versatile players. Yesterday he finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 steal.
Yesterday’s stat line reflects his impact in most of Melbourne’s games. Kennedy ranks first or second in most major statistics amongst United players. Amongst his teammates he ranks second in points, second in rebounds, second in assists and first in steals. To use a cricket analogy, Kennedy is United’s all-rounder.
Kennedy’s proficiency as a rebounder allowed United to push the pace hard, and the respect he demands as a slasher and penetrator broke down Sydney’s defence on numerous occasions, giving United some easy looks. Kennedy also showed he is a willing closer, coming up big for United in the dying tug-of-war minutes, giving them a lead with 1:24 to go.
As he grows more comfortable in his new environment, the former Cleveland Cavalier will only get better.
3. Bowen earning his stripes off the bench
It was certainly a night for the imports, as another American put on an impressive show.
A five star recruit out of high school, Brian Bowen is a highly-rated young talent.
Since joining the Sydney Kings as part of the NBL’s ‘Next Stars’ program, Bowen has had an up and down professional career. While averaging a solid 7.1 points per game, consistency has been elusive for the young wing. He had a solid 11 points and 5 rebounds against Cairns, and a few nights later in Adelaide it became two turnovers and a steal.
As a member of Sydney’s deep roster, it has been difficult for him to gain traction and adjust to the NBL. This is in large part due to having to compete with a number of similarly sized players for minutes, including Brad Newley, Deng Deng and David Wear.
In his last six games the American's minutes have have been far from consistent, ranging from a mere 9 minutes, to the 31 minutes given to a starter. It's highly likely that his sporadic minutes are likely a reflection of his streaky play.
Yesterday, on one of the biggest regular season stages, the rollercoaster ride that is Bowen's professional career reached a peak. In his 21 minutes the 20-year-old gave a tantalising glimpse of what he can offer the Kings. Bowen gave Sydney terrific energy off the bench, concluding the game with 15 points and 5 rebounds. His bounce and length made for some highlight reel moments, including an emphatic block on Chris Goulding in the fourth period.
“Defensively he was working hard, he was cutting hard and he was a real focal point for us,” said Andrew Gaze after the game.
“He played with great energy. It really felt like we needed a bit of a spark on the boards, and something different because of the way they were playing us, and he did that. We went with him and we stayed with him.”
If Bowen can continue to provide what Sydney need, consistent minutes will quickly follow for the young American.
Sydney return home to face the top of the ladder Perth Wildcats, December 6 at 7:50 pm AEDT. Melbourne face Brisbane December 8 at 2:50 pm AEDT