R12 Preview: Melbourne United vs SE Melbourne Phoenix

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 17 February, 2022

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won the last time?
South East Melbourne 94
(Qi 22, Creek 16, Munford 16) d Melbourne 86 (Dellavedova 19, Lual-Acuil 17, Agada 16) – Round 2, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

Mitch Creek dunked on Matty Dellavedova. That’s what happened. The whole world saw it. There was also a pretty damn good game of basketball too, the Phoenix on fire as they streaked 18 ahead in the second term, but nine points from Delly turned the tide. Jo Lual-Acuil then took over and Melbourne were in front early in the last, however 17 final-quarter points from Zhou Qi and Xavier Munford delivered little brother a big Throwdown win.

What happened last start?

Melbourne were on the comeback trail again last week against Perth, but this time they were irrepressible. Down 15 late in the first, Shea Ili put the clamps on Bryce Cotton, Chris Goulding got hot from downtown and Lual-Acuil continued to be a beast inside. The 'Cats came strong late, but Delly scored 11 points in the final seven minutes to calm the farm.

South East Melbourne upped the ante on Tasmania after half-time, applying serious physicality to hold the JackJumpers to 11/34 shooting and dominate the paint at both ends. While the Phoenix sharp-shooters struggled again, they were +24 on scoring from ‘ones and twos’ to exploit Will Magnay’s absence. They’ll need to shoot better against big Jo and United.

Who’s in form?

Caleb Agada – For a man known for scoring 17 points on Team USA and 43 on Maccabi Tel Aviv, Agada has found a myriad of ways to contribute when his shot’s not dropping. Against Perth he amassed 13 rebounds, five o-boards, three assists, two steals and a game-high +11. He leads United in plus/minus and steals, second in boards, third in points and dimes and fourth in blocks.

Ryan Broekhoff – Rowdy epitomises doing what the team needs. Despite shooting 3/15 on his trademark triples the past three games, Broekhoff has averaged 18 points and 10 boards, while pinching five crucial steals in the dour win over Tasmania. In six career games against Melbourne, he’s averaged 6.7ppg and 5.0rpg, something he’ll be mighty keen to improve.

Who needs to be?

Mitch Creek – In Round 2, Creek tallied 16 points, seven rebounds and an important five assists, his ability to handle the ball and create for others a key in taking the heat off his guards. He’s also good at putting defensive heat on oppo guards, and turning stops into points as the league’s leading open-floor scorer, and that’s crucial to avoid United’s half-court D.

Jack White – Jack didn’t play in the first Throwdown, but his past five games have delivered 12.4ppg at 52 per cent and 8.2rpg in 25 minutes. His importance this week is the ability to stay in front of Creek, match him physically inside, and be able to handle the ball when the Phoenix deny United’s guards, and not only advance the ball but turn it into easy points.

Who’s statting up?

 - Against Perth, United won the middle quarters 63-32 but lost the first and last 30-55. Against South East Melbourne in Round 2, they won the middle quarters 57-43, but lost the first and last 29-51

 - In the first quarter against Perth, Melbourne allowed four o-boards, didn’t force a turnover and scored just two points in the first half of the shot clock. In the second term, they gave up just one o-board, forced four cough-ups scored 20 points in the opening 12 seconds

 - In the Round 2 Throwdown, the Phoenix outscored United 67-53 on ‘ones and twos’, hitting 47 per cent from two-point range to 39 per cent, and shooting 29 free throws to 20

  - In their past three losses Melbourne have given opponents 28.7 free-throw attempts. Across the rest of the season that number is just 15.7  

Who’s matching up?

Jo Lual-Acuil v Zhou Qi – Has there been a more memorable big-man battle in the NBL in recent memory than the first Throwdown? Big Jo produced 17 points at 50 per cent, seven blocks and four assists, while big Zhou went even better with 22 points at 71 per cent, 10 rebounds and seven swats – including four on JLA himself – to be the game-defining force.

Lual-Acuil has gone to another level since then, however, averaging a remarkable 23.7 points at 72 per cent inside and 15.3 boards in his past three outings. He is just 2/8 from range, however, and this battle could come down to JLA’s ability to hit, and the willingness of Qi to give up outside looks to ensure he takes away Acuil’s A-game inside the paint.

Who’s talking the talk?

Everyone’s talking about this Throwdown! While last year’s semi-final meeting was huge, this could be at another level.

The way the semis played out, the fact both teams are locked in a battle for top spot, the incredible highlight that was Mitch Creek’s dunk on Dellavedova and the controversy from Mason Peatling’s subsequent hip-and-shoulder has this rivalry starting to enter Magic-Tigers territory.

“We always know Melbourne vs Melbourne is going to have a bit of hostility, there’s always been that rivalry in the past,” Creek said.

“They obviously toppled us in the finals last year and I know the people are wanting a whole bunch of razz from the last game, but in all honesty, we are focusing on the job at hand.”

The Peatling hit wasn’t something out of the blue, however. Like this rivalry, it has built over time with Creek humiliating his cross-town rival.

The former Net and Timberwolves reserve has toyed with his overmatched counterpart and let him know about it, something Peatling hasn’t forgotten.

“Peatling has had three cracks at hurting him this year in our practice match and our first game,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell told the media this week.

“He had a fast break and Peatling had a bit of an unsportsmanlike foul on him, he nudged him in the back, which is a pretty dangerous play for a preseason game, and earlier in that first game Mitch was on a fast break and Peatling took him down in a bit of a rugby tackle.

“I was surprised he didn’t get tossed out for that one, actually. So, all this talk of being a protector of Delly is false. We all see through it. At the end of the day, I think Mason was just embarrassed he got the ball taken off him and it ended up as a highlight-reel play.”

Them’s fighting words, as they say, yet while it may add some spice to the build-up, there are no condiments needed to make this a hell of a basketball game.

“It’s going to be competitive, it’s going to be physical and I think both teams will be looking forward to that,” Dellavedova said.

“They’ve been playing really good basketball even with guys coming in and out of the line-up. Obviously they beat us last time so we’re looking forward to this one.”

The absence of Chris Goulding and Jack White were significant reasons why the Phoenix beat them last time, but so was Zhou Qi.

“He was good tonight, 10-of-13 from the field, that’s pretty efficient, but guys were making plays to help him with that,” Mitchell said.

But it wasn’t just at the offensive end, his length taking away Melbourne’s penetration game that is crucial to open up shooters and get to the foul line, from where they can set their defence.

“Just his length, he blocks a lot of shots, but he would have changed another five or so and I think having that anchor on the defensive end for us is amazing,” Kyle Adnam said.

“As a guard it does give you confidence to climb into the ball knowing there is that rim protection for sure.”

As a result, the Phoenix kept Melbourne to 39 per cent shooting from two-point range, dominated points in the paint and got to the foul line a whopping 29 times as they picked United’s usually stringent defence apart.

“You go in with a game plan, ways you want to go about things and who you want to isolate and targets you want to go to from an offensive standpoint, and guys on their roster who aren't great defenders that you want to target as well,” coach Mitchell said.

“I thought we were pretty good at it, they probably got a little bit of what they wanted out of it too, but I thought defensively we held up pretty strong.”

And while much of the public focus is on the emotion this rivalry is now bringing out, for Mitchell it’s about his players dealing with that in the heat of battle.

“We did touch on the emotion that will happen and being the first to calm ourselves when it does hit that spot, I think we did that and I think that’s how you win ball games and emotional games,” he said.

“You're going to lose your head for a moment there, it happens in a charged game, but it’s who can settle down and execute and return back to a game plan that’s going to take care of their business.”

With Lual-Acuil v Qi, White v Creek and some tantalising perimeter match-ups with Dellavedova, Goulding, Agada and Shea Ili against Munford, Broekhoff, Adnam and Izayah Le’afa, all is set for another page of Throwdown history to be written at Melbourne Park.


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