THE cream always rises to the top. Round 20 of the National Basketball League (NBL) wrapped up on Monday night, when the Cairns Taipans travelled down to Victoria to take on Melbourne United at John Cain Arena. A dead rubber, it was shaping up to be a one-sided affair given the contrasting form of the teams throughout the 2021/22 season. United have been the benchmark the entire time and look a red hot chance of claiming consecutive titles at the end of the finals.
On the other hand, the Taipans have fallen short of their goal of a postseason appearance, and instead are focussed on finishing the home and away season with some momentum to take into their 2022/23 campaign. They entered Monday’s matchup with a big task on their hands, especially without two of their most important players in Scott Machado and Stephen Zimmerman. While the visitors were able to put up a solid fight, Melbourne was simply too strong over the course of four quarters, claiming a convincing 12-point win in front of their home crowd and securing the regular season championship with their 20th triumph.
Melbourne United (92) def. Cairns Taipans (80)
The Taipans kicked off the game in competitive fashion, with keeping up with United on the offensive end. Without two key offensive players, the Taipans moved the ball with freedom, and Melbourne was unable to tell who would fire off the next field goal attempt. In saying that, United were still not beaten in the first term, which shows how scary the reigning champs can be. They entered the first break with a one-point lead, but certainly had some competition on their hands. The second term saw United do as expected and get on top on the scoreboard, with their dynamic offence proving too much for an overwhelmed Taipans side. Sharpshooter Chris Goulding began to get involved from behind the arc, and led Melbourne to a nine-point advantage heading into the second half of play.
Melbourne’s momentum continued into the third quarter, as the lead was further extended. Star United duo Jo Lual Acuil and Matthew Dellavedova got in on the fun, with the pair scoring the last 14 points of the term for the home side, combining in the pick and roll with aplomb. The Taipans trailed by 15 points heading into the final quarter, and their hopes of causing an upset were fading rapidly. United were not done there, looking to stretch the margin out as much as possible in the final 10 minutes of action. When a Goulding three-pointer ballooned Melbourne’s lead out to 18, the home side began to take the foot off the gas. Cairns slowly chipped away to make the final deficit a bit more respectable at 12 points.
For the victors, Goulding was the clear standout with a game-high 27 points, thanks to six buckets from behind the three-point line. It is common knowledge around the competition that the veteran can single-handedly take over a game on the offensive end. He was not alone, with Dellavedova also pouring in an impressive 17 points of his own. For the Taipans, Ben Ayre was outstanding despite facing one of the toughest defensive backcourts the league has to offer. In his fourth outing of the season, Ayre finished with 20 points, four rebounds and nine assists and was clearly his side’s strongest performer. Cairns did have one highlight to celebrate, with Bul Kuol setting the record for most three’s in a season by an Australian rookie.