Eight is great for Chris Goulding

Winning cures everything, and having your best player back in the line-up usually increases your winning chances.

Melbourne United learnt this the good way, with a barrage of Chris Goulding three-pointers, eight to be exact, leading his squad to an 84-79 victory over the Cairns Taipans. It was Goulding’s first game back since he injured his ankle against the Brisbane Bullets on the 20th of October.

After round one, when Goulding shot just 6-of-28 from the field, and a horrible 3-of-19 from beyond the three-point line, I analysed how he can sometimes be a detriment to United’s offence. I mentioned how Goulding settled for long, contested three-pointers, when better options were available. While that fact still stands true, there is a reason Goulding has the greenest of lights in the NBL, and he proved that against Cairns, as he also did numerous times last season.

Goulding equaled Todd Blanchfield’s franchise record for most made three-pointers in a game, hitting an incredibly efficient 8-of-12 on his long distance attempts. Furthermore, Goulding’s 30 points is a season-high for Melbourne, and his coach, Dean Demopoulos, was happy to have his star back.

“It’s good to see guys get the chance to play again,” Demopoulos said.

“Chris has been going crazy sitting around. He is a high-energy guy with an unbelievable motor, and to be inactive, and have to watch it is torture for a player like him. I couldn’t be happier with obviously how he played, but also, just the fact that he is playing again.

“It was a good night for Melbourne United.”

Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry has the freedom to take shots that other players could only dream about. Demopoulos allows Goulding to take advantage of his three-point shooting expertise in a similar way. When Goulding is hitting his triples, United’s offence is an unstoppable machine. When he is missing his shots, though, such as we saw in round one, Melbourne becomes too predictable, and a much easier squad to defend.

It’s a great conundrum for a coach, and a delicate balancing act, as you don't want to disrupt the flow of the offence. However, taking away Goulding’s license to shoot would be like telling Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist, Slash, to stop playing the solo riffs he’s so famous for – it eliminates their greatest strength.

To understand the depth of trust coach Demopoulos entrusts in Goulding, take a look at this shot he hit against Cairns.

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When Goulding receives the ball, there are 17 seconds remaining on the shot clock, plenty of time to run a set for a quality look. Furthermore, mismatches have already been created from the Casper Ware/Devin Williams pick and roll. Taipans’ point guard Travis Trice is left guarding the 6’9” Williams in the post, while Ware is much quicker than his new defender, Nanna Egwu.

Despite the numerous advantages Melbourne holds on this possession, Goulding launches a contested, long three-pointer with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. Having someone who can drain low-percentage attempts like this is an advantage, but it wasn’t the best shot the possession could have yielded with that much time left on the shot clock. Fortunately for United, Goulding is one of those rare players who can hit shots like these, and salvage the possession.

However, not all of Goulding’s three-pointers came from these kind of instances, as seen here.

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In this set, Goulding is based on the weak side corner. With the Taipans defence already scrambling to recover after some miscommunications, Melbourne executes a highly effective set of swing passes. It leaves Goulding with a wide-open triple, a shot he makes in his sleep.

“I’m disappointed in the way we defended him,” Fearne said of Goulding.

“He was the winning player tonight.”

One of the elements that I underestimated when Goulding was on the sidelines, was how much Melbourne’s offence would suffer without him. Blanchfield’s injury had exacerbated the issue, leaving United without two of their key offensive cogs. However, with playmakers such as David Andersen and Ramone Moore still on deck, it seemed as if Melbourne would be able to tread water on the offensive end, while the injured pair rehabbed.

It wasn’t the case, as United averaged just 76 points on 41.9 percent shooting without Goulding. If those numbers were applied across an entire season, Melbourne would rank last in points and second-last in field goal percentage.

United’s screen-heavy offence forces defenders to think about where the screen is coming from and how to counter it, and often results in mismatches. Once the mismatch is created, players that thrive in isolation --such as Goulding-- are in favourable positions to attack at will. This is where Demopoulos must place faith in the effectiveness of his players to deliver, even if some of the shots created aren't the best a possession could produce.

Fearne recognised Goulding’s importance to United’s offence and made a point of it postgame.

“They rose to the challenge and Chris came in and gives them that scoring,” Fearne said.

“People need to take that into consideration. If you took that scoring punch out of any team in this league you’re going to struggle. It’s a lot easier for them to score with Chris out there.

“When Chris gets going, he starts making everything.”

For his part, Goulding was pleased to be back on the court – and maybe even more grateful to be off the exercise bike.

“Pretty much all I’ve been able to do is shoot,” Goulding said of his rehab process.

“Stand still shooting, so I was lucky I got a few walk-up threes to get me going. I did a lot of stationary bike, which doesn’t help one little bit once you step feet on court, but that’s all I’ve been able to do.”

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It’s hard for a player to have a large impact in their first game back from injury. It’s even harder when United made a major personnel change, in releasing Cedric Jackson and signing Ware. Not only did Goulding have to deal with an ankle that was admittedly not 100 percent, but he had to adjust to life with a new point guard. The fact that Goulding had such a night out with all of these external factors involved is a testament to his work ethic, according to Fearne.

“I said this to our guys in the locker room, it frustrates me as a coach when players today say, ‘oh, I’ve been out for a month and it’s going to take me some time to get back into it.’ That’s all bullshit,” Fearne said.

“Chris has been out for a month, I don’t know how many games he has missed, and he comes out, goes to work, and drops 30. That’s what pros do. When they’re out, they work on their game and fitness, and when they’re ready to come out and play, they play their role.

“Chris came out and did what Chris does.”

Demopoulos believed that Goulding’s circumstances made his performance all the more spectacular.

“To have to come back and not play with the rhythm you were used to right before you got hurt and then have to do it all over again, that’s what makes what Chris did so extraordinary,” Demopoulos said.

“I guess that’s why coach [Fearne] mentioned it because a guy coming off injury, it’s very difficult to pick up where you left off.”

It is only one game, so it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions. After all, Goulding’s round one efforts can still be considered as much as his explosion against Cairns. However, Goulding earns the benefit of the doubt, after his absence proved how essential he is to United’s offensive success.

“We obviously don’t know who Chris Goulding is,” Fearne said, when asked about how he thought his team defended Goulding.

After a statement return game, no one will be forgetting who Goulding is, or more importantly, what Goulding brings to Melbourne United.