Melbourne United said they wouldn’t let their Game 1 capitulation hurt their confidence and they proved this with the most remarkable demolition job of the regular season champion Sydney Kings at Melbourne Arena on Monday night.
Melbourne turned on a record-setting performance to thrash the NBL title favourites 125-80 and force a deciding Game 3 at Qudos Bank Arena on Thursday night as their best-of-three series is now tied 1-1.
United came into the season with high hopes having played in the previous two Grand Finals and then adding two tremendous offensive weapons in the form of centre Shawn Long and point guard Melo Trimble.
But the season had never really got rolling. They started slowly and never built any true momentum, but they did do enough in the last two weeks of the regular season to snatch fourth place and then deliver a tremendous Game 1 showing – for 34 or so minutes.
They were up 16 midway through the fourth term against a Kings team who finished as regular season champions having sat atop the ladder every single week. But Melbourne then fell apart in remarkable fashion, Sydney took advantage and took the win after a 24-2 run.
How Melbourne responded to that two days later with their season on the line was always going to be fascinating. Long set the tone from the opening stages, though, and what was to come was the biggest mauling of any club seen this season.
Long, in his battle with Kings centre Andrew Bogut that dates back to last season as they vied for the acknowledgement as the league’s prime big man, was stunning for Melbourne with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
He had plenty of help too with Melo Trimble scoring 21 points, Stanton Kidd 18 points and Jo Lual-Acuil 17 points off the bench.
Kings power forward Jae’Sean Tate led his side with 18 points, 11 of which came in the first term while Casper Ware, Didi Louzada and Lucas Walker all had 10 points apiece. Bogut’s stat-line of zero points on 0/1 shooting with two rebounds and three turnovers was telling.
Melbourne broke open the contest and possibly the series in a stunning second and third term run which saw them score 34 unanswered points and keep the Kings scoreless for eight minute and five seconds.
Melbourne’s final tally of 125 points was the most in club history beating their 123 scored in four overtimes against Illawarra Hawks, their winning margin was a record in the 40-minute era as was their three-quarter time tally of 103 points.
United coach Dean Vickerman said his side had felt the strain after Monday and were fired up after people throughout the club were hit with angry messages following their game one loss.
“We were pissed off from the other night,” Vickerman said.
“I thought we played well enough over there. I thought these guys responded really well. But there was a lot of hate out there for whatever reason.
“It was a basketball game. We had people on social media being hit up, it’s a crazy world right now. I thought it made us come together as a group. We came into shoot-around today with a calmness but focus about us.
“I loved the way they played defence together today to keep a team to seven points in a quarter, help each other like that, is what we have been thriving for all season.”
The Kings will have home court and everything to play for on Thursday night but Melbourne’s confidence has never been higher and they know they can take the game to the home side who have only lost twice at home this season.
Kings coach Will Weaver said his side had to do what Melbourne did after game one and overcome their disappointment then reset for game three.
“That’s the fun of the finals, everyone is trying to manage the see-sawing emotions,” Weaver said.
“But from the outset they were really in the mindset they were going to step up their physicality and the one play that stands out is when Mitch McCarron hit JT [Tate] when he rolls, he hits him again and then JT gets frustrated and kicks his leg out.
“Unless you review it then it’s hard to see unless you review it but that’s Melbourne United hitting us first and not reacting in a way that is emblematic of a team that wants to be successful in playoffs.”
Vickerman said he was managing David Barlow and Tohi Smith-Milner through minor concerns with Barlow only playing seven minutes in his 300th NBL game.
Game 3 of the series is at Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney on Thursday night as part of a double-header with the Perth Wildcats then hosting the Cairns Taipans in another Game 3.
NBL SEMI FINALS GAME 2
MELBOURNE UNITED 125 (Long 26, Trimble 21, Kidd 18)
SYDNEY KINGS 80 (Tate 18, Ware 10, Louzada 10, Walker 10)
Best-of-three series is tied at 1-1