A defensive masterclass from the table-topping Melbourne United saw them recover from a slow start to dominate the Brisbane Bullets in a 99-88 win.
The classy display was epitomised by a 26-11 second quarter, where United’s depth and intensity on the defensive end came to the fore to restrict a Bullets side desperate for a win in the tight run towards the finals.
Despite averaging over 20 points per game this season against Brisbane, Jock Landale was quiet, instead of leaving the damage up to captain Chris Goulding (22 points, five rebounds, and four assists) and Jo Lual-Acuil (18 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two blocks).
It was another night where United showed off their incredible depth, as back-up big man Lual-Acuil relished the freedom on both sides of the court to destroy the Bullets.
“It’s always good going out there and playing the game we love,” Lual-Acuil said post-game.
“We came out of the game with a win, which is what we wanted going in.”
Lual-Acuil was at his athletic best, leading the game with two blocks while capping off some brilliant team plays with alley-oop finishes in the post.
Despite starring, the United centre held all praise for the brigade of passing guards on the court with him.
“They’re all great guys,” Lual-Acuil said.
“I’m lucky that the attention is on them, I just do the easy job by getting open and putting the ball in the rim.”
This depth ensured United never looked challenged after their whirlwind second quarter, as consistent efforts from Shea Ili (10 points and four rebounds), Mitch McCarron (seven assists and six rebounds), and Mason Peatling (six rebounds) all contributed in various ways to hold the Bullets at bay.
With Yudai Baba also returning strongly from injury to defend Brisbane powerhouse Nathan Sobey in stretches, United is beginning to look like a complete side heading into the finals.
Their 25th win for the season levels their franchise record of wins in a season, as they now draw level with the 2018 side that eventually went on to win the NBL title.
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But for coach Dean Vickerman and his players, they are keeping their eyes lowered towards the final stretch of games before the upcoming finals series.
“I don’t really like to compare seasons, right now our whole intent is to try and get top spot if we can,” Vickerman said.
“We’ve got four more games to do that – a lot of people played a lot of minutes tonight, and I think that depth is going to be something that’s to our advantage going forward.”
Despite the loss, the Bullets can take some positives out of the clash. They continued to fight until the end, with Lamar Patterson dazzling in parts with 20 points and four assists, while big man Harry Froling was his usual self with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.
But they are at the opposite end of the spectrum to United, who are set to claim top spot and are the clear title favourites ahead of the Perth Wildcats.
Should United maintain their defensive intensity and share the offensive load, then they may be difficult to stop come finals time.