Andrew Bogut brought the people but Melbourne United took the win as the reigning champions handled business against the Sydney Kings in front of a sell-out crowd at Melbourne Arena.
As 10,300 people filled the arena on Melbourne Cup eve, Melbourne asked the Kings plenty of questions and Sydney didn’t have enough answers with United winning 77-70.
DJ Kennedy enjoyed his best game for Melbourne with the import left-hander outstanding with 24 points and 10 rebounds while United’s defence and their offensive rebounding in the final term snuffed out any hope for the Kings.
Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch led the Kings with 15 points each but Melbourne made them earn every point as the Kings shot just 39 per cent from the field.
Bogut had eight points, 15 rebounds and three blocks and commanded the key for much of the game although the Kings couldn’t turn his rebounds into transition points often enough.
Josh Boone’s 10 rebounds and Mitch McCarron’s 14 points and nine rebounds reduced Bogut’s influence.
More impressively, Melbourne won both games this round with captain Chris Goulding playing only five minutes in total as he recovers from a knee injury.
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman said his side’s defence was pivotal to the win.
“I was so proud of the way we defended early in the game,” Vickerman said.
“I thought not only our first line of defence but our second and third line of defence and our activity was fantastic – even the ones they scored were tough and contested.
“We struggled throughout the game to finish around the rim and Bogut was a factor in that one so we experimented with a small ball line-up at the start of the third with Barlow at centre to drag Bogut out.
“Then in the fourth quarter we put the ball in DJ’s hands and let him playing one on one and he was really effective and gave us a nice little margin to the start the fourth.”
Kings coach Andrew Gaze said free-throw shooting hurt them knocking down just 4/12 shots compared to Melbourne’s 15/20 from the stripe.
“Unfortunately for us we missed too many free throws, missed a lot of shots we usually make but I give them credit,” Gaze said.
“They worked really hard at the defensive end, as did we. But we had a few more breakdowns than they did and they exploited some of our situations better than we did so they came away with the win.”
With an electric crowd on hand, Melbourne burned as Casper Ware and David Barlow sparked a 10-2 start for the home side.
But some strong work inside from Bogut and a successful shift from the Kings bench saw them 17-11 down at quarter-time.
Randle and Ware traded classy baskets early in the second term and Melbourne regained a double-figure lead but Boone went out with his third foul opening the door for a Kings run.
Randle’s long jump-shot cut the lead to three points but Melbourne found room for a late basket to lead 35-29 at half-time.
Melbourne’s small-ball line-up gave the Kings trouble to start the third term as Barlow ran rampant with Kennedy’s layup making it 41-29.
But Bogut dunked an alley-oop pass from Randle and followed with a tip-in which had the Kings back in the contest with Melbourne leading 53-47 at three quarter-time.
Kennedy took things into his own hands to open the final term with six quick points while Boone and McCarron found their spots taking a 68-53 lead with six minutes to go.
The Kings tried to fight back but couldn’t find a way as Melbourne claimed the win.
Round 5 sees Melbourne take on the Hawks in the ‘Gong on Thursday and then host Cairns on Sunday. Vickerman hopes Goulding will be fit for Thursday but he will need a fitness test to play.
Sydney travels to Adelaide to play the 36ers on Saturday.
NBL ROUND 4
MELBOURNE UNITED 77 (Kennedy 24, McCarron 14, Barlow 11)
SYDNEY KINGS 70 (Randle 15, Lisch 15, Kickert 13)