14/04/2024

Ladder-leaders Melbourne United have survived a major scare, coming from 16 points down in the last quarter, to secure an overtime playoff victory against the Illawarra Hawks

All hopes looked lost for Melbourne when the margin was extended to 16 points with around six minutes to go in the game. At that stage, Justin Tatum’s men were shooting with supreme efficiency in one of their season best showings.

Vickerman decided to play a full-court press and pile the pressure onto the Hawks to disrupt offense, and it worked. Multiple turnovers and tight defence led to bad shots and easy runaway points for United, as they chipped away at the deficit.

With just 14 seconds left and with the Hawks up by just two points, guard Kyle Adnam executed an errant pass on the inbound, allowing Matthew Dellavedova to take the ball away and have a chance to tie or win the game in the dying seconds.

He gave the ball off to Chris Goulding, and while he was unable to get free to knock down the winner from beyond the perimeter, he got inside for a successful lay-up with just four second left.

That helped to tie the game and send it into overtime. From there United were able to get stops and bridge the gap early in overtime, to run out 115-106 victors in their greatest escape this season.

Post-match Vickerman admitted that his side got away with one after trailing by plenty into the last term.

“We got out of jail a little,” Vickerman said.

“But we played the right way to get back in the game.”

A major reason behind the comeback victory was the impact of star Matthew Dellavedova. After having a solid NBL season, the former NBA Champion took his game to a new level when it really mattered, finishing with 30 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.

He has at times struggled from beyond the arc in his career, but after being left open by the Hawks perimeter defenders, he made his opposition pay. 6/10 on 60% shooting from the three-point line, continuing to knock down crucial shots throughout the game to keep his team within touching distance.

“When I look back at it, Dell (Dellavedova) was crazy, that’s an absolutely amazing game, certainly the best game I think he’s ever played for this club,” Vickerman said.

Luke Travers also had a major say in the result, saying that performances like Dellavedova’s are just expected from a player of his calibre.

“I think it’s expected, he’s obviously been at the highest level and done these things at that type of level as well. You’ve seen it at NBA finals, so I think it’s really expected and it’s only the start for him I think,” he said.

“I think CG touched on it during the game, he was just playing at another level on the defensive end, and I think he really got us going at the end of the game. If he can do that for us every game, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

Travers finished the game with 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

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United struggled to stem the flow of their opposition’s attack and impressive shot making ability early in the contest, before locking in by making the decision to try the full-court press late.

“We were really poor defensively, like really poor, we got our coverages wrong,” Vickerman said.

“Clark was a problem for us in the first half and I think our coverage on him to allow him to shoot some three balls, needed to be better. That all started with our want to help each other, we rely on our rim protection, and we didn’t have it early in the game.”

Despite being below his best for most of the night, Vickerman was pleased with how big man Jo Lual-Acuil responded late in the game as well.

“My message to him was you’re better than that and we need you to be better, so I didn’t do anything to change his mindset, I just thought he came out and showed what he’s capable of in protecting the rim and rebounding,” he said.

“I loved Jo’s turnaround, he wasn’t doing things that we needed him to do early in the game, and then I think he’s probably -13 or something and he ends up +13 or something.

“There was a period there where he just changed and rebounds everything and didn’t give them second shots. Just did exactly what we needed him to do to protect the rim and block shots.”

Hawks centre Sam Froling who had a dominant impact on the game, said that United’s late tactics rattled his side.

“It looked like they started pressing us full court and it messed us up. We couldn’t get in offense and then the ball got stagnant,” he said.

Then we were taking some bad shots that let them get out in transition and get a bit of momentum.”

The Illawarra Hawks will have a chance to make amends and keep their season going on Sunday at the WIN Entertainment Centre.

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