Melbourne United became the first NBL team to win five in a row this season, continuing their remarkable record on their rabbits, the New Zealand Breakers.
That may sound harsh for a side that have spent the better part of 12 months on the road and face the rest of this season’s games in Australia, but that’s exactly what the Breakers are when they take on Melbourne United.
The champions put their foot down when needed to register a routine victory, 89-78 – their 11th in the last 12 meetings between these two teams.
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In scenes reminiscent of Kennett’s curse of Hawthorn against bitter AFL rivals Geelong, the Breakers simply cannot topple United.
They did their best, leading to the end of the first and the long break.
But United are having one of the best defensive seasons in NBL history, limiting teams to a league-best 70 points per night and limiting opponents to an historic 35.4% from the field.
The Breakers shot it to a slightly better clip – 43% – but they allowed Melbourne to drain half of their attempts and were crushed to the glass, 50-25.
“It was a tough game, the Breakers are really good and persistent in difficult circumstances,” United captain Chris Goulding said.
“Thanks to them, they pushed us tonight, we just went through a stage where we strengthened our defense at the start of this fourth quarter and started to make some shots.
“Happy to have this win.”
It was a record night for Goulding, who led all scorers with 23 points.
CG43 hit a pair of free throws early in the final quarter to reach 5,000 NBL points – the United maestro has more points than any other active player apart from Adelaide 36ers veteran great Daniel Johnson.
His fourth three-pointer of the night took him to 885 and propelled him to 14th place on the NBL’s all-time list, edging out the great Rob Rose.
Big man Jo Lual-Acuil annihilated Yanni Wetzell, draining 11 of his 21 shots en route to his 20-10 NBL opener.
The Breakers import 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 NBL22 team to win five games in a row, cementing their back-to-back titles.
They are now gearing up for a Sunday blockbuster with fellow countryman Illawarra.
“We were supposed to face them last weekend…so they had an extra week to prepare for us and us for them,” Goulding said.
“A really quality team, they have goalscorers everywhere and obviously we know they are a very well trained team, so a great test for us.
“We have won a few games, but this is another test.”
Slip and slide
Those pesky court decals reared their ugly heads again, with Martin seemingly slipping on the logo in the key. Martin cautiously stopped and winced in pain, but managed to shake it off and continue playing. With the cost of digital on-court advertising being prohibitive, the NBL has struggled to strike a balance between its hardwood decals and court safety, but it’s still an issue that comes up 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 led the four in United’s 2021 title run while White recovered from a torn ACL, scrambled and shoved his way to 12 rebounds on 18 minutes. United have enough stars, so Peatling know it’s meat and potatoes that will buy them more playing time.
He struggled to adapt early to the NBL, suffered a hamstring injury and the Breakers have another import pending backstage. But Siva seems to have found his rhythm in the league. In a bench role, the pint-sized playmaker gave his team the start they needed with a nine-point first quarter en route to 19 for the game. Something to lean on for the former Detroit Piston.
INJURY NIGHTMARE IN KINGS FIRST MATCH
It was supposed to be their triumphant return to the field, but the Sydney Kings’ first game of the year ended in both an insult from their bitterest rival and an injury from star rookie RJ Hunter.
The Covid-related postponements meant neither the Kings nor the Illawarra Hawks appeared in court in 2022 before Thursday night’s 97-89 Freeway Series win over the Hawks.
Former NBA first-round pick Hunter had to wait even longer than that, with knee pain preventing him from entering since Dec. 16.
His return to the scrum lasted less than ten minutes.
With the boulder in his hands just outside the arc in the first quarter, Hunter abruptly bent over in pain without a hand on him.
The American quickly hit the deck and grabbed his knee in anguish, eventually requiring the help of two coaches to cover the short distance off the field.
Worryingly, the Hawks scored eight unanswered runs after Hunter left the contest to take the lead for the first time and force a timeout from the Kings.
Medical staff suspect Hunter suffered a patellar tendon injury, which means his layoff could be a long one.
The Kings must now decide as soon as possible whether to take another shot at the injury-prone Hunter or head to the market for his replacement.
“If it’s a long gap, you’re going to have to get a new import,” Corey Williams said in commentary for ESPN.
“This league is too good, the competition is too tough for you to sit back and wait for a player to get injured again. You need to get a new import.
A high-quality, high-octane contest was held in Illawarra and American imports led the charge.
Tyler Harvey rocked the Hawks’ slow start to rack up 19 points in three quarters. Aussie Sam Froling worked hard for 27 points, nine rebounds and two steals at the final buzzer.
Coming back 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’ first 11-0 lead.
The contest has never been so one-sided again, and when Chase Buford reinjected Adams into the contest after a restful third quarter, he would have hoped for an immediate impact.
Instead, the Hawks kept their foot on the gas to bring the chocolates home.
The Kings faithful might not have gotten the result they were looking for, but the passion and intensity shown on both sides was exactly what Australian basketball fans have been missing during a month of Covid disruption.
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 got the ball back.
From the floor, he went half the length of the court and connected with Cooks, whose ensuing dunk was an undisputed highlight of the match.
His resume may not boast of Adams’ NBA stints, but the game was the Kings backup guard’s entire heart.
Duop is you
There must have been signs of rust after such a long hiatus, but Hawks star Duop Reath was barely spotted on Thursday night.
In Reath’s last game, he scored 21 points to go with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
But on Thursday, he missed the entire final quarter, having been limited to just six points and four rebounds. It was undoubtedly his quietest game of the season.
Originally published as NBL: 2022 Season Round 7 Game Reports & Results