Melbourne United has become the first NBL team to win five in a row this season, continuing their remarkable record over their bunnies, the New Zealand Breakers.
New Zealand Bunnies.
It might seem harsh on a team that has spent the best part of 12 months on the road and faces the rest of this season’s games in Australia, but that is exactly what the Breakers are when they play Melbourne United.
The champions put their foot to the floor when it was needed to record a routine win, – — their 11th in the past 12 meetings between these two sides.
In scenes reminiscent of Hawthorn’s Kennett curse against bitter AFL rival Geelong, the Breakers simply cannot topple United.
They did their best, leading at the end of the first and at the long break.
But United is putting together one of the best defensive seasons in NBL history, restricting teams to a league-best 70 points per night and holding opponents to a historic 35.4 per cent from the field.
The Breakers did shoot it at a slightly better clip — 43 per cent — but they allowed Melbourne to drain half their attempts and were crushed on the glass, 50-25.
“That was a tough game, the Breakers are really good and persevering through some tough circumstances,” United captain Chris Goulding said.
“Credit to them they pushed us tonight, we just went through a stage where we stepped up our defence at the start of that fourth quarter and started making some shots.
“Happy to get that win.”
It was a banner night for Goulding, who led all scorers with 23 points.
CG43 hit a pair of free throws early in the last quarter to reach 5000 NBL points — the United maestro has more points than any other active player, besides Adelaide 36ers veteran big man Daniel Johnson.
His fourth three-pointer of the night took him to 885 and lifted him into 14th place on the all-time NBL makes list, leapfrogging the great Rob Rose.
Big man Jo Lual-Acuil annihilated Yanni Wetzell, draining 11 of his 21 shots on his way to his first 20-10 game in the NBL.
Breakers imports Jeremiah Martin (20), Peyton Siva (19) and Hugo Besson (17) tried hard, but United always seemed to have their measure.
After a slow start, Melbourne became the first team in NBL22 to win five games in a row, reinforcing its back-to-back title credentials.
They now prepare for a Sunday blockbuster with fellow title-fancy Illawarra.
“We were meant to play them last weekend … so they had an extra week to prepare for us and us for them,” Goulding said.
“Really quality team, they have scorers all over the board and obviously we know they’re a really well-coached team, so a great test for us.
“We’ve been winning some games, but this is another test.”
SLIP AND SLIDE
Those pesky court decals reared their ugly head again, with Martin appearing to slip on the logo in the key. Martin pulled up gingerly and winced in pain, but was able to shake it off and continue playing. With digital court advertising cost prohibitive, the NBL has tried hard to strike a balance between its hardwood decals and court safety, but it is still an issue that arises from time to time.
REMEMBER ME, COACH
Jack White was inserted into the starting line-up but it was his understudy Mason Peatling who impressed. The 24-year-old big man, who manned the four in United’s 2021 title run while White recovered from a torn ACL, hustled and bustled his way to 12 rebounds in 18 minutes. United has enough stars, so Peatling knows it’s the meat and potatoes stuff that will win him more playing time.
He struggled to adjust to the NBL early, suffered a hamstring injury and the Breakers have another import waiting in the wings. But Siva appears to have found his rhythm in the league. In a bench role, the pint-sized point guard gave his side the start it needed with a nine-point first quarter on his way to 19 for the game. Something to build on for the former Detroit Piston.
INJURY NIGHTMARE IN KINGS’ FIRST GAME BACK
It was supposed to be their triumphant return to the court but the Sydney Kings’ first game of the year has ended in both insult, at the hands of their most bitter rival, and injury to star recruit RJ Hunter.
Covid-related postponements meant neither the Kings nor the Illawarra Hawks had taken to the court in 2022 before Thursday night’s 97-89 Freeway Series win to the Hawks.
Former NBA first round draft pick Hunter had had to wait even longer than that, with knee soreness keeping him out since December 16.
His return to the fray lasted less than ten minutes.
With the rock in his hands just outside the arc in the first quarter, Hunter abruptly hunched over in pain without a hand being laid on him.
The American quickly hit the deck and clutched his knee in anguish, eventually requiring the assistance of two trainers to make the short distance off the court.
Ominously, the Hawks scored eight unanswered points after Hunter left the contest to take the lead for the first time and force a Kings time-out.
Medical staff suspect Hunter has suffered a patella tendon injury, meaning his lay-off could be a long one.
The Kings must now decide as soon as possible whether to take another chance on the injury-prone Hunter or go to market for his replacement.
“If it’s a long gap, you’re going to have to get a new import,” said Corey Williams in commentary for ESPN.
“This league is too good, the competition is too tough for you to just sit and wait again for a player who’s re-injured. You need to get a new import.”
A high-quality, high-octane contest unfolded in the Illawarra and the American imports led the charge.
Tyler Harvey shook off the Hawks’ slow start to rack up 19 points by three-quarter time. Aussie Sam Froling worked hard for 27 points, nine rebounds and two steals at the final buzzer.
On his return from an ankle injury, Jaylen Adams had three assists within two-and-a-half minutes of the game and was the architect of the Kings’ early 11-0 lead.
The contest was never as one-sided again, and when Chase Buford injected Adams back into the contest after a restful third quarter, he would’ve hoped for immediate impact.
Instead, the Hawks kept their feet on the accelerator to take the chocolates home.
The Kings faithful mightn’t have gotten the result they were after but the passion and intensity on show from both sides was exactly what Aussie basketball fans missed during a month of Covid disruptions.
Late in the second quarter, Kings veteran Shaun Bruce fell to the ground attempting a steal on Duop Reath.
The much smaller Bruce refused to be deterred and while still on his knees, he regathered the ball.
From the ground, he passed half the length of the court and connected with Cooks, whose ensuing dunk was an undisputed highlight of the game.
His CV mightn’t boast the NBA stints that Adams’ does, but the play was all heart from the back-up Kings guard.
Duop kept quiet
There were bound to be some signs of rust after such a long hiatus but Hawks star Duop Reath was hardly sighted on Thursday night.
In Reath’s last game, he scored 21 points to go with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
But on Thursday, he sat the entire last quarter out, having been restricted to only six points and four rebounds. It was undoubtedly his quietest game of the season.