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The New Zealand Breakers spoil Melbourne United's party
It wasn’t quite the homecoming party Melbourne United had in mind.
It was meant to be an afternoon of celebration for United, as the club’s first championship banner was unfurled in Melbourne Arena. However, the celebration had a bitter aftertaste, as a tired United succumbed to the New Zealand Breakers 81–88.
Despite import DJ Kennedy sitting on the sidelines with a minor ankle injury, things looked promising for Melbourne in the first quarter. Their ball movement was slick, and they were able to generate a number of clean shots. Goulding seemed to be carrying over his form from Friday night against the Hawks, hitting back-to-back triples. He would finish the night as United’s top scorer with 22 points.
For the first 10 minutes of the game it seemed the basketball gods were watching over Melbourne on their big night. Though United gave up 10 first quarter offensive rebounds, the Breakers were unable to capitalise on their rebounding advantage. At times it appeared there was a lid on the Breaker’s basket.
However, as the game progressed, the wear and tear United sustained on Friday against the Illawarra Hawks began become apparent.
From the second quarter onward the game mostly belong to the Breakers. Tai Wesley was utterly dominant in his first game against his old club. He scored 15 of his 25 points in the second period alone, and seemed to be able to get into the paint at will, repeatedly abusing United’s tired front court.
Wesley’s fantastic first half covered for Corey Webster. The Breaker’s superstar guard was scoreless the entire first half, registering his first points early in the third quarter. After his great game against Brisbane, Melbourne gave him special defensive attention, throwing double teams at him early on. He struggled to adapt and finished the game with 7 points, shooting 25 at percent.
Tom Abercrombie also helped cover Webster’s struggles in the first half. His constant movement and cutting to the basket made him too elusive for the clearly drained United players. He added 16 points to the Breaker’s tally, in the process, becoming the team’s leading all time scorer.
Josh Boone had little impact preventing the interior onslaught during his 18 minutes of court time. The tired big man was not himself, after playing longer than usual minutes against Illawarra. Wesley and the Breakers ruthlessly took advantage. Jump shots were clearly not the priority. The Breakers scored only 12 points from three-point shots for the game, opting instead to record 58 points in the paint
Like Boone, Casper Ware also seemed to be feeling the strain of Friday night’s marathon. After logging 55 minutes against the Hawks, he was barely a factor for the majority of the contest. Their were some flashes of his normal self in the first half, including a nice pull up jump shot in the opening minutes of the game. However, in the end, he finished with 6 points, shooting 20 percent from the field.
The third quarter was a much closer affair, with multiple lead changes as the two teams wrestled for ascendancy. United looked to be giving the Breakers a taste of their own medicine, feeding Alex Pledger in the post on a number of possessions.
United entered the final quarter down 66 – 71. Mitch McCarron, who replaced Kennedy as the starter, gave the home team a spark. He hit a tough three, followed by a pinpoint behind the back pass to the cutting David Barlow for the dunk. McCarron then topped off his great fourth period with a put-back, to bring United within 8 points with 2:20 to go.
A miraculous comeback seemed to be on the cards as Goulding hit a quick catch and shoot three-pointer with 1:44 remaining. Yet it wasn’t to be, as Patrick Richard iced the game with a three of his own, securing an 81 – 88 away win for New Zealand.
“I give a lot of credit to [United] for fighting through and sticking with it, but they got tired,” Breakers head coach Kevin Braswell said after the game. “That was one of the things we wanted to do, is push the pace, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that for probably three quarters of the game.”
Wesley’s big game had an emotional significance coming against his old club. Seeing the banner he helped earn be unfurled was a surreal experience. “The emotions were high, they were flowing. The pre-game ceremony, it definitely got a little emotional for me as the game got started. You know, you shake this guys hand who you went to war with for two years, really. It was an emotional game.”
United head coach Dean Vickerman was philosophical about his teams loss, but knows there are areas that need to be urgently addressed. “Generally there were some really good things for us tonight. And then there are some things that, right now, are starting to become a trend. To give up 22 offensive rebounds… it’s hard to win a basketball game when the other team is shooting twenty more shots than you.
“It’s a glaring issue for us right now.”
Melbourne United remain at home next round to face Adelaide, while the New Zealand Breakers travel home to Auckland to battle the Sydney Kings.