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R4 Wrap: Melbourne in seventh heaven, Harrington debuts

Round 4 saw the NBL debut of NBA veteran Al Harrington, as he suited up for the Sydney Kings against the Townsville Crocodiles and Melbourne United. They faced Melbourne in front of their biggest crowd of the season, and the home side continued their supremacy as they registered their seventh straight win and maintained their undefeated streak to start the season. Meanwhile, under-pressure import Markel Starks put his stamp on the competition with a dagger into Adelaide's heart with a game-winning triple, while two Breakers netted career-highs and the Perth Wildcats registered the most impressive statistic of the round. New Zealand Breakers 90 def Cairns Taipans 67, Vector Arena With both sides going in to the game holding a 2-3 record, last season's grand final rematch carried with it a sense of desperation as the likes of Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide started to gap the rest of the field. New Zealand didn't get the memo however, playing freely and getting career-high production from scorer Corey Webster (35 points) and power forward Tai Wesley (26), while Cairns seemed stuck in the mud. After opening the game up 12-6, the visitors let Webster loose, landing three triples among a 15-4 run to end the first term. Cairns kept pace with the Breakers until a third-quarter scoring explosion headed by Webster and Wesley drew the margin out to 13 with a quarter remaining. While New Zealand had found a rhythm, Cairns players looked lost in the offensive system and coach Aaron Fearne let them know about it. Import Markel Starks (13 points) played with real venom for the first time this year, but it was not near enough as the hosts won by 23. Illawarra Hawks 96 def Townsville Crocodiles 88, Townsville Entertainment Centre AJ Ogilvy this week showed why he may just be the most important player to his team in the NBL. The 211cm, 115 kg giant abused Townsville's frontcourt minus starting centre Luke Schenscher as he went to work in tandem with one of the league's craftiest guards in Kevin Lisch. Ogilvy (28 points, 13 rebounds) used both brains and brawn to get most of his buckets at the rim, with great pick-and-roll play and tip-ins contributing to a bulk of his offence. Scoring was never an issue when Ogilvy was on the floor – the attention he commanded down low contributed to the improved contributions from former League MVPs Lisch (25 points, 4-6 3pt) and Kirk Penney (24 points, 3-5 3pt). With the visitors skipping out to a 16-1 lead in just over three minutes, the Crocs were tasked with doing the near impossible two games in a row – and got within four points late in the third term – but lightning did not strike twice as they went down by eight. Melbourne United 75 def Perth Wildcats 73, Hisense Arena This meeting of NBL powerhouses ended in fireworks as United import Stephen Holt played hero with a game-winning right-handed floater in Matthew Knight's grill. With no timeouts left, Perth had 7.8 seconds to break the hearts of the 4,822 in attendance, but Jermaine Beal's left-handed layup was denied at the rim by Melbourne strongman Majok Majok in a blocked shot that divided a nation. Perth fans were irate at the no-call but it appeared that the Sudanese centre had gotten ball before hand. United's Todd Blanchfield rebounded the blocked shot, got fouled and made one of two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining. In the seconds prior, Cats legend Shawn Redhage splashed a wing triple via Beal to put the visitors up a point with 13 seconds remaining. Despite Perth's +12 paint points, 22-year-old Majok had himself a night with a man-sized 12-point, 12-rebound double-double. Holt (15 points) and Chris Goulding (19) led Melbourne in scoring while Knight was the game's best with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Astonishingly, Perth out-rebounded Melbourne 52-28 yet still could not get over the line.  Sydney Kings 87 def Townsville Crocodiles 78, Qantas Credit Union Arena The hype-gauge busted in the lead-up to this one in anticipation of the NBL's most credentialed recruit of all time, Al Harrington, making his league debut. With 16 NBA seasons, over 1000 games and almost 14,000 points under his belt the 35-year-old was an eleventh-hour decision after getting clearance to play just minutes before tip-off. The 206cm Harrington proved tough to contain inside in his 19 minutes on court, coming off the bench for 10 points (4-10 FG) and three rebounds before fouling out of the contest. Sydney rode a 26-14 first quarter – Townsville's seventh double-digit first-quarter deficit in eight games this season – to keep a steady lead throughout the contest. The league's most skilled bigman Julian Khazzouh (22 points on 10-13 FG, nine rebounds) landed multiple tough buckets down the stretch to keep the Crocs at bay. Import Marcus Thornton again failed to fire with 14 points on 17 shots, while Jordair Jett was the Crocs' sole shining light, with an efficient 22 points.  Cairns Taipans 104 def Adelaide 36ers 101, Titanium Security Arena His NBL future was questioned in the lead-up to this one, but Taipans point guard Markel Starks is now the talk of the league. The 24-year-old Georgetown played out a baller's dream on Saturday night, responding to adversity by sinking a dagger into the hearts of thousands of opposition fans as a chorus of gasps sucked the life from Titanium Security Arena. It is safe to say that Starks needed a shot in the arm after talk of a shortened Taipans tenure grew by the game. With 27 points on 10-18 shooting (including the game-winning triple), the electrifying guard solidified his place as one of Cairns' key cogs on their playoff push. Starks had the ball on a string and his jumpshot finally calibrated, guiding his team with the poise of a veteran in the frantic up-and-down affair. Import Torrey Craig also stepped up on cue with 19 points on 7-12 shooting, while Daniel Johnson crafted a massive 29 points and 14 rebounds, and pocket rocket Jerome Randle managed 25 points and nine dimes. Perth Wildcats 91 def Illawarra Hawks 62, Perth Arena The term 'beast mode' gets thrown around among basketball circles, but fans may need to re-evaluate its use after Saturday night's pummelling in Perth. Take heed, NBL fans, you may never see this kind of stat again... in two games over the weekend, Perth has out-rebounded their opposition by a combined 45 boards. With one of the physically strongest power forward-centre duos the league has ever seen, Perth gave the Hawks a reality check after their own physical domination of Townsville three days prior. The league's two best bangers went toe-to-toe and it was the 143kg behemoth Nathan Jawai coming out on top of Ogilvy as Perth went to the Bamaga product at every opportunity. For the first time this year Jawai (16 points on 7-9 FG) showed genuine polish on the post, outscoring his matchup – who fouled out in under 21 minutes – by 10 points; further illustrating Ogilvy's importance to his side. Wildcat Casey Prather made his return with a team-high 18 points as Illawarra's Kirk Penney netted a game-high 19. Melbourne United 96 def Sydney Kings 82, Hisense Arena It was Sunday afternoon target practice as United stretched their unbeaten start to seven games with a Chris Goulding-inspired win. Goulding had 25 points – 10 of Melbourne's first 12 – as the league's most potent scoring side burned the Kings 34-17 in the opening term. With a blistering 8-13 from downtown in the first quarter, threes kept raining as United finished with the most three-point makes of any team this season (17-34). Goulding had a dance-off with Kings import Marcus Thornton who finally broke the shackles with jinking moves on his way to 29 points. Majok Majok grabbed his obligatory double-figure boards, and Daniel Kickert chimed in with 21 points on 3-6 from deep. Sydney star Al Harrington threw down his first dunk but it proved another tough outing for the 35-year-old, who managed 11 points on 3-10 shooting. Next round features another seven games as Perth seek revenge in Townsville on Wednesday, Adelaide cross the ditch for a Jerome Randle-Cedric Jackson showdown followed by Melbourne at Sydney on Thursday. A second double-header in as many days features Cairns at Illawarra and Townsville at Perth, while Sydney travel to Adelaide on Saturday and New Zealand arrive in Melbourne for one of the games of the year on Sunday.
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