IT is the matchup that always seems to deliver. To kick off Round 19 of the National Basketball League (NBL), fans were treated to a clash between the SEM Phoenix and Melbourne United at John Cain Arena on Thursday night. In another instalment of the Throwdown series, the two Melbourne-based sides locked horns in a cracking contest. There was plenty on the line for the Phoenix coming in, as they had fallen down the standings in the weeks coming into the game, and were at risk of dropping out of finals contention. They faced a tough task given United have been the strongest side for the majority of the season. It was a ripping contest, with the match going right down to the wire. For a while, it looked as if the Phoenix were going to surprise everyone and take down the ladder leaders. However, a late dunk to Jo Lual Acuil gave Melbourne the lead with just seconds on the clock, and they held on to claim a tense two-point win.
The match kicked off with Phoenix big man Zhou Qi controlling the match in the opening minutes. He scored the opening six points of the game for the home side and was proving a tough task for United’s interior defence. Jack White matched that output with six unanswered points for Melbourne, and United began to get on top. They went into quarter time with a five-point lead over the Phoenix, and the match looked as if it was going to pan out as expected. However, the Phoenix were able to flip the script in the second term, outperforming United on both ends of the court. Melbourne’s dynamic offence was suddenly grounded, and South East Melbourne got on top. The main break saw the Phoenix lead by a point, setting up a thrilling second half.
The momentum of the Phoenix continued into the third term, as they further extended their lead with some terrific ball movement. Star Mitch Creek got involved on the offensive end, as he attacked the basket and found the bottom of the net, while Reuben Te Rangi also joined in on the action. Heading into the final term, the Phoenix held a seven-point advantage on the scoreboard, and given the momentum of the match, it appeared likely they would keep it rolling into the last. Things did not pan out like that, as United mounted one last charge in the fourth quarter. They erased the three-quarter time defecit in one minute of play, and took the lead shortly after. From here, it was a back and forth affair as the lead changed hands a number of times. When the Phoenix held a one point lead with 30 seconds to play, it appeared likely they would sneak away with the win. Lual-Acuil believed otherwise, storming down the other end of the court with ball in hand and throwing down the go-ahead dunk. United was able to hold on to their lead and claim a thrilling triumph.
For the victors, sharpshooter Chris Goulding led the way with 20 points and five buckets from behind the arc. United looked to get him open for three whenever possible and it resulted in some nice looks for the veteran. White and Lual-Acuil combined for 27 points and made some big plays down the stretch. For the Phoenix, Creek was the standout with 20 points of his own, as he continued his fantastic season.
New Zealand Breakers
The second match of Thursday night’s double-header saw the Perth Wildcats hold off a brave effort from the New Zealand Breakers and claim a nine-point triumph at RAC Arena. The visiting side performed better than expected, but the Wildcats proved too good and snapped their losing streak at home.