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GAME REPORT

Early shooting sets up United win over Snakes

Melbourne United had to survive a late Scott Machado-led Cairns Taipans charge, but a hot shooting first half set the stage for the title favourites to remain undefeated with an 87-85 road win on Monday night.

Melbourne has entered the 2021 NBL season as warm championship favourites and they did nothing to change that when they opened the campaign with a 24-point win in Adelaide.

They haven’t played since that opening night game and even got the chance to spend some time back home in Melbourne for the first time in several weeks before flying back up to Cairns to take on a Taipans team playing their fourth home game in nine days at the Pop-Up Arena.

The Taipans were desperate to respond to losses last up to the Hawks and Sydney Kings too, but United would have none of it. 

With Chris Goulding leading the charge, United nailed 7/8 threes in the first quarter and 10/18 in the opening half to help set up an 80-67 lead after a Yudai Baba-inspired 9-0 streak early in the fourth term.

But in front of the Orange Army, the Taipans were always going to throw everything into a fight back and it was Machado who turned his night around making five quick baskets for an individual 11-2 run.

The Snakes then got threes late from Fabijan Krslovic and Mirko Djeric, and then still had a chance to win the game on last possession. 

But Machado's three ball rimmed out and United held on to win by two and go to 2-0 while the Snakes are 1-3 with some early season concerns given they have all been home games.

United set the win up with their hot shooting second half and then ground out the victory with Jock Landale tremendous with 19 points and seven rebounds. 

Chris Goulding added 17 points on going 4/9 from deep with Jack White impressive with 12 points and six boards including a brilliant alley-oop on the pass from Landale.

Yudai Baba had another purple patch with the Japanese sensation scoring 10 points. Jo Lual-Acuil gave good energy in 17 minutes with seven points and 11 rebounds.

Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman took plenty from the game both his happiness in the first half and then things to learn down the stretch.

"Having 10 days between our first game and this one, we were conscious of coming out the right way and we did that tonight. That was great," Vickerman said.

"We established an early lead and led throughout the game, and there was a good amount of runs. Cairns were fantastic and exactly what you'd expect of a team that just dropped a couple of close ones at home. 

"Their fight and how relentless they were was outstanding, and we kept making runs and Yudai Baba was massive for us early in the fourth as we established a good lead.

"Again they came back with Machado making tough ones in the mid-range and we had to make some free-throws, and play defence to win the game. 

"It was good for us to sort out where we were going down the stretch and we will keep assessing what we did. But we certainly didn’t execute or score well enough in the last five minutes."

The Taipans would have been happier with their second half defence to hold United to 36 points and 3/14 three-point shooting to at least give themselves a shot at the comeback win.

Machado finished with 19 points and six assists, Cam Oliver 17 points and 13 rebounds, Kouat Noi 17 points, four boards and three steals, Djeric 13 points and three assists, and in his first start, Krslovic eight points and three rebounds.

Taipans coach Mike Kelly liked his team's response in the second half, but would prefer they didn’t need to fight back.

"We came in with a mindset to win and we're coming away with a loss but I actually think we played half a game the way we really wanted to play," Kelly said.

"I think Melbourne United deserved the win because they played four quarters and had a great first half. We just had a great second half," Kelly said.

"The guys adjusted and we did a much better job to slow them down, and they had to adjust and run a different set. I loved the way our guys fought back and in the end it was too little, too late."

Melbourne came out with the hot hands beginning with Mitch McCarron knocking down a three ball. Scotty Hopson joined in and so did Sam McDaniel and Shea Ili, but the first quarter belonged to Chris Goulding who hit three from long range as Melbourne led 29-21.

Goulding hit his fourth triple of the half to start the second quarter as the lead grew to double-figures and was soon 14. 

Cairns fired back with threes of their own from Scott Machado, Mirko Djeric and Cam Oliver, but Jock Landale responded with two of his own from beyond the arc and the visitors led 51-45 at the break having nailed 10/18 from deep.

United maintained their edge to still be up seven by three quarter-time and then it was Japan's Yudai Baba who helped them blow the game open to start the fourth. He made two free-throws, hit a jumper and knocked down a three for an 80-67 lead with 6:45 to go.

But that’s when Machado took it upon himself to give Cairns a sniff. He hit his team's next 11 points and then it was a two-point ball game with the Taipans having the last possession. Machado's triple missed and United got out of Cairns with the win.

The Taipans remain in Cairns to host the Hawks on Thursday while Melbourne is back to Victoria and plays South East Melbourne Phoenix in Bendigo on Sunday.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 2

CAIRNS TAIPANS 85 (Machado 19, Noi 17, Oliver 17)

MELBOURNE UNITED 87 (Landale 19, Goulding 17, White 12) 

BOX SCORE 

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