Melbourne United and the South East Melbourne Phoenix’s rivalry is getting stronger. An NBL21 semi-final series solidifying the competitiveness, ahead of their first meeting in the current season, Throwdown XIII.
When the South East Melbourne Phoenix entered the NBL three years ago, they would become the second Melbourne-based side in the league, and thus, created a new series that marked the two side’s encounters; the Throwdown.
On Sunday, it will mark the 13th iteration of the battle between United and the Phoenix, the current head-to-head wins favouring the former franchise, eight to five.
However, the Throwdown has been strengthened as the seasons have gone on, and that was no more evident than last year’s finals series which saw the two sides pitted against each other.
At the conclusion of NBL21, United finished the season in second place, whereas the Phoenix would finish in third place on the standings – their first post-season appearance in franchise history.
While Melbourne took a hold of the first game of the three-game semi-final series with a commanding 96-78 win, South East Melbourne fought back for a 90-79 Game 2 victory.
United would prevail in the deciding Game 3, 84-74, setting up a Championship Series against the Perth Wildcats, which they won in three games to claim the franchise’s first title under the United name.
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Melbourne United guard Matthew Dellavedova, who is no stranger to big games having won an NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, is excited about his first Throwdown.
Having heard big things about the enormity of the occasion and the raucous noise generated by the fans, Dellavedova is looking forward to taking in the moment, but still delivering for a United side who lost their opening game of NBL22.
“I’ve heard from a lot of the boys and the coaches what it’s (the Throwdown) gonna be like,” Dellavedova told media this week.
“I’ve heard a lot about the fans at John Cain Arena so [I’m] really looking forward to it, it’s going to be an intense, physical battle.”
On the other side of the court, newly-appointed South East Melbourne captain Kyle Adnam is wary of the threat the reigning champions possess but is keen to make up for a campaign that ended early last season.
“I think the finals series last year sort of solidified that [growth of the Throwdown] for me”, Adnam said.
“It was a bittersweet ending for us and it’s definitely hurt a lot. We watch back Game 2 and [Game] 3, which wasn’t a great experience but it’s something that will definitely add fuel to the fire this season for us.”
This season marks the first Dellavadova is spending in the national competition, having chosen the US college route back in 2009 after years of state-based representation in the sport.
The 31-year-old mentioned his first impressions of the league, and the drawcard to choosing to play back home – after his recent NBA season yielded just 13 games as a result of various injuries – was the physicality of the league.
“I knew it’s a tough, physical league, there’s a lot of great players in this league and everyone plays tough, competitive, physical defense and that’s what you want to be a part of,” he said.
“I think whenever Australians play sport, it’s physical, it’s competitive, the pace is definitely fast, and the defenses pick up full court, there’s a lot of change-ups and a lot of heavy scouting which I’ve really enjoyed so far.”
Adnam, who overtook Phoenix marquee forward Mitch Creek as captain has been relishing the opportunity, crediting a strong support team in helping him build into the role.
“Throughout the last couple of years I’ve kind of grown in that role a little bit,” he said.
“To have the support of not only the group but front office, coaches, all those things as well, it’s been amazing. It’s something I’ve always hung my hat on and I guess, to be recognised in a way, it’s meant a lot to me.”
With a maiden finals series now out of the way for the Phoenix, the point guard fired a warning to the league, saying the team wanted to be an ongoing force of the competition and he wanted to continue to build a legacy at the club.
“It was a good start for us (a Round 1 win), a really [good] team effort. It’s sort of a great way to start the year, everyone being involved and bench energy was great, the crowd here was amazing,” he said.
“We know how much work has gone into building this club, to building this team and we want to be in the finals every year and we expect that from ourselves.
“[Melbourne United] got to hang the banner up last year and that’s something we’ll be looking to do this year.”
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