GF Game 2 Preview: Perth Wildcats vs Melbourne United

When: 5pm (AEST), Sunday 20 June

RAC Arena, Perth

SBS Viceland; ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch

The last time

Melbourne 73 (Goulding 23, Landale 17, Lual-Acuil 10) d Perth 70 (Blanchfield 27, White 10), Grand Final Game 1, RAC Arena

This game had everything, one of the tensest NBL games in memory which left 10,000 Wildcats fans spellbound. The contest featured just four lead changes but seemingly had momentum swings around every corner, most memorably Perth’s 12-4 lockdown over the final seven minutes to set up Jesse Wagstaff’s game-tying triple that rimmed out.

Perhaps the most notable run came in nine minutes across three quarter-time, when Melbourne’s offence finally clicked and they outscored the hosts 31-14 to build their match-winning lead. Just as important was United’s possession game dominance, and the ability of Chris Goulding to break his long-running offensive drought on the biggest stage.

The now
Opening this series at home, while United traversed the continent with three days’ rest, was the depleted Wildcats’ best chance to put the minor premiers on the back foot, and they will feel they let one slip. Their biggest challenge is finding how to get some easy baskets early in the offence without coughing the ball up and allowing Melbourne’s athletic line-up to punish them the other way, especially if Clint Steindl and Luke Travers are out.

United’s challenge is breaking the defensive deadlock they struggled with for most of Friday’s game. As their key finisher, Jock Landale is the barometer of Melbourne’s offensive efficiency, and he had 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting in their key nine-minute run, compared to 8 points on 3-of-11 the rest of the way. Crucially, 14 of their 31 points in that charge came from offensive rebounds and turnovers, with three triples from o-boards.

The stats

 - Melbourne were +5 on o-boards and won second chance points 13-6 in Game 1. In four wins over Perth they lead that stat 38-30, while in two defeats they trail 12-29

 - Perth committed 17 turnovers to 12 in Game 1 and lost points from turnovers 26-7. In two wins over United they lead PFTs 46-22, while in four losses they trail 56-74

 - In Melbourne’s 31-14 run they nailed 6-of-9 from long range, with Goulding hitting 3-of-5 from deep in that spell. Over the rest of the game United were 3-of-24 and CG43 just 2-of-9

 - United have won their past four games in Perth, holding the Wildcats to just 73ppg, 25.8 made field goals at 40 per cent and 6.8 triples at 28 per cent

The key men

John Mooney – The Moon Dog may well have set an NBL record for shot fakes in Game 1, given space on the three-point line but failing to launch a single heave. While Mooney is 3-of-13 from range since Cotton’s injury, he has nailed 48 per cent this season and 6-of-7 in two wins over United. For Perth to win he must do his job, and that’s taking and making open shots – not leading the Todd Blanchfield cheer squad, because as well as Vinnie is shooting the rock, he can’t outscore Melbourne alone – and grabbing more than 4 d-boards.

Chris Goulding – CG43 averaged 11.3ppg in the seven games leading into the Grand Final opener, and heading into half-time he had made just 18 of his previous 61 long-range attempts. Importantly though, he hit a late triple before the break, two pull-ups inside immediately after, then nailed three from outside to spark the decisive burst. His buzzer beater in Jesse Wagstaff’s grill was as important as any play in the game. Will Perth give Mitch Norton and Kevin White more time together to ensure better coverage on Goulding?

The quotes
Grand Final legends are built on the back of this sort of stuff, a shootout between an Olympian and NBL championship captain, and the man looking to make his name on the biggest stage of his career.

So it was in Game 1 as Todd Blanchfield lifted the weight of the injured Bryce Cotton, Clint Steindl and Luke Travers onto his shoulders and produced a masterpiece in his first-ever grand final appearance, finishing with 27 points on 5-of-9 from the arc.

“Blanchfield was tough tonight, he got himself to the foul line and was a real target for them. The other guys it looks like we did a pretty good job on, but he was a force,” Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman said.

“There’s going to be continual adjustments and wrinkles to slow each other down, we have to make some adjustments to the Blanchfield down screen.”

In response, Chris Goulding did Chris Goulding things, landing five trifectas of his own en route to 23 points, and typically picking big moments to insert himself into the game.

“Chris was getting some clean looks, there were a couple we went under (the screen on) him and you can’t do that. There’s one just before half-time that the clocks running down and we've got our hands down near our knees,” Perth boss Trevor Gleeson said.

“That’s what we've got to clean up.”

That battle was a joy to watch for neutral fans, and Goulding appeared to enjoy the challenge too.

“I would have enjoyed it if Toddy had missed a little bit more and I had made some more,” he joked post-game.

“But it’s cool. Todd now is the focal point of their offence. He’s been a great complementary player to Bryce throughout the year and now he’s the main guy, so we’ve got to lock in on him, and credit to him for a really strong performance in I think his first grand final – he was a problem tonight.”

Perth’s problem was an unusual one for them.

“We couldn’t get the ball,” Gleeson said.

The masters of the possession game were given a lesson, -10 combined on turnovers and offensive boards.

“It seemed every loose ball they would get, and that in the playoffs is big,” Gleeson added.

“From the five-minute mark of the third quarter I think they tapped three out and hit three threes and that’s when they got in front and got that separation.

“It was a tough, physical game, I can’t fault our guys’ effort, there was a lot of heart in it, but it comes down to the possession game and 17 turnovers.

“We were loose with the ball, offensive fouls, we gave them extra possessions, I think they had 17 more shots than us and it’s hard to combat when the other team’s getting double-digit more shots than you.”

Perth coughed up eight turnovers in Melbourne’s crucial nine-minute run, and their offence was rarely the same with the hampered Mitch Norton on the bench.

The Wildcats scored 47 points and shot 19 free throws in their point guard’s 25 minutes on court. In the remaining 15 minutes they managed just 23 points and three trips to the charity stripe.

At the other end, Melbourne shot 34 per cent from the field with Norton on the floor, compared to 50 per cent during his pine time.

It was basic errors that allowed Goulding to get loose late in the second term, and he scored 20 points in the next 16 minutes to change the game.

How many minutes can Norton’s hip take? Is he able to play the role of Goulding stopper more in Game 2 ala his predecessor Damian Martin?

Can Jesse Wagstaff break his run of 12 straight three-point misses across his past five games? And will Landale’s disrespectful ‘too small’ sign for Mooney light a fire under Perth’s import big?

The biggest question though is around ball security and securing rebounds, because there is little question the Wildcats will play with heart regardless of their injury situation, but do they have the physical horses to match Melbourne in the possession game?

For United, can they consistently generate the pace needed to exploit Perth’s lack of depth?

“They're tough, they're extremely tough defensively, they just came off a series where Illawarra are a great running team and they were able to do the same thing, they were able to make them play at the pace they wanted to,” Vickerman said.

“I think it was just the one quarter we were able to break away in that game and find our offence and go, hopefully our ability to see more of what we did in the third quarter over the course of the series.”

For Goulding, it’s going to be fun doing it over again in the Jungle.

“Nothing against the 105 people we played in front of in Sydney, but 10,000 or 13,000 or however many it was passionate Perth supporters is always fun,” he said.

“A lot’s been said about who’s playing and who’s not playing for Perth, but such a strong passionate club, they were going to come out ready to roll, it didn’t matter who was playing for them.

“There were times we shot ourselves in the foot, we sent shooters to the line a little bit too much, but just overall very pleasing to get a win here in Game 1.

“There are things both teams will feel they can do better, and five-game series are always about adjustments, so everyone will look at the tape, we’ll come back and do it again on Sunday, and we’ll be hoping for the same result.”


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