Hungry Jack's NBL
R7 Preview: Melbourne United v SE Melbourne Phoenix
When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 16 November
Where: Melbourne Arena
Broadcast: SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand
The last time
Melbourne 110 (Long 31, Goulding 24, McCarron 13, Trimble 13) d SE Melbourne 98 (Creek 23, Madgen, 16, Roberson 16), Round 5, Melbourne Park
Big brother might have got caught out in the season opener, but Melbourne delivered their upstart sibling a thorough beating when they met again a month later. United went through Shawn Long early and the Phoenix had no answer, as he amassed 31 points at 71 per cent and 12 boards, while Chris Goulding silenced the booing crowd with 24 points and Melo Trimble largely silenced John Roberson in a game-changing defensive performance.
Just when the wheels were starting to wobble a tiny bit, after two losses in three games and a mediocre first 20 minutes against NZ, the Phoenix produced a second half to savour as the held the Breakers to 30 points on 13-of-36 from the field, while racking up 61 of their own at 65 per cent, with just 3 turnovers, to remind everyone they are still an offensive force.
No one is more forceful offensively than Melbourne at the moment, averaging a ridiculous 106.8ppg in their four-game winning streak. While United has the lowest-scoring bench with the worst assist-to-turnover ratio, at the moment Melbourne has enough people doing their jobs – led by Mitch McCarron – to support Long, Goulding and Trimble superbly.
- United’s big three are all averaging more than 21ppg. The last time that happened over a full season was 1996 when Andrew Gaze, Mark Bradtke and Lanard Copeland did so for Melbourne
- In their Round 1 Throwdown loss, United gave up 55 points from ‘ones and twos’, 36 from outside the arc and pulled in just 59 per cent of their d-boards. In the Round 5 win, they allowed 77 inside but only 21 from outside and grabbed 71 per cent of d-boards
- The Phoenix have given up 17 o-boards in both their losses, compared to 12.4 o-boards in their five wins
- Roberson took 4 three-pointers and 6 two-pointers against United in Round 5, but has taken 48 triples and 28 two-points across the rest of the season
Shawn Long v Jaye Crockett – Let’s not beat around the bush, Long monstered the much-improved Dane Pineau in their Round 5 clash, in a battle that epitomised this big brother-little brother rivalry. When the dust settled Mr Double Double had another one to his name, and had put on a remarkable show above the rim as the Phoenix failed to find an answer.
Keith Benson caused Long some troubles early, but his overall game isn’t at NBL standard, so that left Crockett. While he had 1 point and 7 boards in that game, his three games surrounding it have produced 12.7ppg at 64 per cent and 3-of-4 from range. If he can hit the outside J, it will force United into zone as they are reluctant to bring Long out of the paint.
Melo Trimble v John Roberson – While he had a brief bright patch in the third quarter, Roberson was mostly a non-factor last time as Trimble and Shea Ili denied him catches and forced him off the arc when he did get the Wilson. In the end, Roberson fouled out in 27 minutes with his team -20 in that time, easily the worst plus-minus in the game.
Trimble struggled offensively that night as his newfound appetite for D impacted his usual scoring zeal, but he’s averaged 25ppg at 54 per cent in three games since, while getting to the foul line 21 times and peeling off an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2:1. Many of those dimes are going to Long, who has taken a liking to rolling hard when his new running mate has the rock.
Star power. Sometimes you’ve just got to give it up to the guns who get it done.
“They were great, Melbourne United. The performance of Shawn Long and Chris Goulding was world class and we couldn’t match it,” Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell said.
United were a team on a mission of vengeance from tip-off, and whenever SE Melbourne mounted any sort of charge, it was Long or Goulding who made a play that popped their balloon.
“Those two guys were both exceptional tonight, I think they were really responsible for the victory,” Mitchell said.
“They bring an emotional element to that team and we were unable to quash that. We talked about it, get Chris off the three-point line, we've got to make sure we do that, and make sure there are no dunks from Shawn because it gets everyone up and about, and we failed our priorities there.
“We've got to go back through the strategy and come up with some better strategies to make sure that doesn’t happen next time we see them.”
To borrow from modern parlance, Shawn Long is a problem for the Phoenix.
Before Throwdown 2, United coach Dean Vickerman said he felt there were a number of SE Melbourne players they could target defensively, and that started with Long.
He got the ball early and often, and Dane Pineau, for all his outstanding improvements this year, had no chance as he battled out of his weight division.
“Just an amazing first half offensively from Shawn Long. (He was) in a zone, doesn’t matter if it was three-ball or post, whatever it was he just knew where the hole was in that first half,” Vickerman said.
“In the game last time we played them I didn’t think they had an answer for Shawn in the post. We saw a few different coverages tonight, he got double-teamed a bit as well, and made a couple of key passes out of it, (we got) a couple of three-balls out of the post when he did got doubled.”
At the outset, it appeared the Roberson-Trimble match-up was the mismatch SE Melbourne could exploit, but a different defensive Melo emerged from the tunnel, and the previously red-hot Roberson only briefly got off the chain.
“I thought (Roberson) had to work hard for his points, and for me that’s the best 5-of-17 Melo can go,” Vickerman said.
“He wore his legs out at one end, he probably didn’t finish some at the rim like he wanted to finish at the other end, but it doesn’t matter, for him to commit to the defence like that, to have Shea come in and do it as well was massive.”
While Mitch Creek was his usual all-around self, on that night the battle of the offensive superstar fell in Melbourne’s favour.
Defensively they got their plan right, whether it be with their zone, man or switching schemes.
They took away SE Melbourne’s deadly three-ball, gave proactive help, forced contested mid-rangers – the Phoenix were 6-of-19 from between the restricted area and the three-point arc – and avoided rotations that opened offensive rebounding lanes.
They still gave up 98 points at 50 per cent, but they dominated the possession game, forced turnovers, got o-boards, created 11 more scoring opportunities, ran off their d-boards and the rest is history.
Make no mistake, this rematch will be another shootout. These teams rank top two in scoring, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage.
SE Melbourne are first in assists and three-point makes and third in offensive rating at 119.6.
United’s current offensive rating is 123.2, first in the league. The highest full-season rating in the past decade is 118.3 by the James Ennis-led Wildcats, followed by the 116.5 of the Kirk Penney and Kevin Lisch-fuelled Illawarra Hawks.
Both Phoenix and United utilise similar 'fake ball-screen' sets that allow them to exploit weaker defenders through high-screens, or quickly flip them into flair screens or downscreens for shooters, or backscreens, curl cuts and alley-oops.
Buckle in for a show, this is going to be good, because the Phoenix mean business after being comprehensively outplayed last time around.
“We reviewed the game pretty closer, there were some long film sessions ad we were really displeased with ourselves and the way we presented ourselves,” Mitchell said.