Hungry Jack's NBL
SF Game 1 Preview: Melbourne United vs SE Melbourne Phoenix
When: 7.30pm (AEST), Friday 11 June
Where: Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
Broadcast: SBS Viceland; ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch
The last time
SE Melbourne 94 (Sykes 26, Creek 14, Wetzell 12) d Melbourne 83 (Landale 19, Goulding 13 Hopson 11), Round 18, John Cain Arena
This was an offensive masterpiece from the Phoenix, who played controlled basketball throughout, converted efficiently from inside and out, absorbed Melbourne’s pressure with poise and took out the rebounding battle. Keifer Sykes was lord of the second half, providing answers to every final-quarter challenge, while Kyle Adnam’s cameos were also key, especially during the game-defining 33-19 run bridging three-quarter-time.
SE Melbourne’s season has been a roller-coaster ride, that Round 18 Throwdown triumph their third in four games as it seemed Simon Mitchell’s men were marching towards third spot, only to follow that high with lows against Cairns and Brisbane. There is no doubt the Phoenix have the pieces and the plan to upset United, but can they put that all together on the day? Their ability to attack the paint and crash the glass shape as crucial factors.
Melbourne are 5-1 since falling to their cross-town rivals, their only defeat a double-overtime loss to Sydney where they committed 19 turnovers and gave up 19 o-boards. They were smashed in points from turnovers and second chance points last time against the Phoenix too, and Dean Vickerman will be riding those areas hard. When it comes to beating SE Melbourne, hitting from range and disrupting their offence are the keys.
- United have hit 39 per cent from long range in three wins over the Phoenix, compared to 27 per cent in two defeats
- Melbourne have scored just 6.5ppg from turnovers in their past two meetings with their cross-town rivals, compared to 13ppg from cough-ups in the opening three match-ups
- In their two Throwdown wins, the Phoenix have shot 55 per cent from two-point range and won points in the paint 106-78. In losses to Melbourne, those numbers change to 43 per cent and 116-124
- In their Round 18 victory over United, SE Melbourne won second chance points 22-13. Across the rest of the season series the average for SCPs was 12-12.3
The key men
Jock Landale – Jock enjoyed the Phoenix’s switching coverage earlier this season. While he was quiet in United’s dominant Round 11 win, he averaged 19ppg at 67 per cent from two-point range in three tighter Throwdowns to be a huge factor. At half-time in Round 18 he already had 12 points on 6-of-6 from inside, but SE Melbourne went to more conventional D to lock Jock to 7 points after interval, with three of his five attempts coming from the arc. If the Phoenix can make Landale a contested shooter again they are a real chance.
Keifer Sykes – Twice Sykes has faced Melbourne on return from injury and struggled, but his two other Throwdowns have produced 50 points, 13 assists and 6-of-12 from deep. His Round 18 masterpiece rendered United’s vaunted pressure useless with his composure and ability to hit the pull-up three off ball-screens or get deep into the lane to finish or find open teammates. The Phoenix scored 51 points after half-time that day, with Sykes contributing 19 points, 4 dimes and 0 turnovers in that match-winning 20 minutes of hoops.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">FOUR ? POINT ? PLAY<a href="https://twitter.com/ksykesyb?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ksykesyb</a> <a href="https://t.co/mI8mCRe3FU">pic.twitter.com/mI8mCRe3FU</a></p>— South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) <a href="https://twitter.com/SEMelbPhoenix/status/1393816131874418688?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 16, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
After Melbourne won back-to-back Throwdowns by a combined 31 points earlier in the season, Jack Nicholson’s Joker might well have said “this rivalry needs an enema”.
In Round 18, it got a serious injection of class and intrigue.
“It was a good Throwdown contest,” United coach Dean Vickerman said after SE Melbourne’s 94-83 win.
“Credit to Simon and the coaching staff, I thought they did a hell of a job, played a little bit bigger tonight, didn’t play Kyle as much, and I think it helped them defensively at times.”
What really helped them defensively was shooting 48 per cent, grabbing 34 per cent of available o-boards and turning the ball over just nine times, leaving Melbourne playing as much half-court basketball as at any stage this season.
In contrast, Melbourne couldn’t get those basics right.
“The first half we had nine turnovers again and that became quite a big factor in the points off turnovers,” Vickerman said.
“In the last five minutes of the third they scored 18 points, eight of those were second chance points – offensive rebounds and three-balls – that little part there broke the game open.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">BIG BUCKET FROM A BIG MAN<a href="https://twitter.com/YWetzell?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@YWetzell</a> ? <a href="https://t.co/pXnKbDnTjP">pic.twitter.com/pXnKbDnTjP</a></p>— South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) <a href="https://twitter.com/SEMelbPhoenix/status/1393818479115980800?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 16, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“We didn’t finish well enough and shoot the ball well enough in the fourth quarter to give ourselves a chance,” Vickerman added.
Keifer Sykes never gave them a chance.
“That’s what he does,” coach Mitchell said succinctly.
“We missed him for a long time and it took him a little while to get his mojo back but that’s what he was doing before he got hurt.
“Excellent composure, both sides of the ball, spread the floor, played in the gaps, made great decisions and closed the game out. It was a wonderful performance I thought.”
The performance left Melbourne point guard Mitch McCarron searching for answers.
“I thought they were a lot better and a lot more precise in the way they attacked us in the half-court,” he said.
“We had some trouble guarding that high on-ball and Keifer was super-aggressive and was successful, shot the ball really well from the inside and the outside, so we’ll have to make some adjustments.”
While Sykes’ scoring outburst was unstoppable and unforgettable, he provided much more than that, including helping lead the shutdown of Chris Goulding and McCarron, who had just 22 points on 2-of-9 from deep between them.
“I want to defend, trying to stop guys, make sure we’re in the right place, make sure we’re running the right plays, make sure the spacing is right,” Sykes said.
“I don’t just score, I just try to do everything I can to win a basketball game and that’s what it comes down to – that’s my job and that’s why I'm here.”
Now here we are in the semi-finals, the first all-Melbourne playoff showdown since the Tigers and Dragons locked horns in the 2009 NBL Grand Final.
This meeting will be a lot different, played in Sydney in a locked stadium, but crowd or no crowd the Phoenix must find a way to stop Jock.
They had a simple solution in Round 18 that helped their overall defensive puzzle as well as forcing the big Boomer away from the rim.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">Jo feeding Jock ? <a href="https://t.co/EwIriHiQUb">pic.twitter.com/EwIriHiQUb</a></p>— Melbourne United (@MelbUnitedHQ) <a href="https://twitter.com/MelbUnitedHQ/status/1393802974330187786?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 16, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“We stopped switching,” Mitchell said.
“We just made the change to the strategy there, we felt we weren’t getting what we wanted, Reuben was fighting manfully with him down on the block but it just felt like it was taking away from Reubs a little bit as well.
“It looked like it was draining him and we’ve got a big job for him on the ball with Macca. So it was kind of let’s ease the burden on him a little bit and let Yanni go one-out for a little while and maybe it came off.”
The Phoenix know their rivals will make adjustments to get Landale involved, and that Goulding is unlikely to go 1-of-6 from deep again. The return of Yudai Baba also adds an extra layer of defence to throw at Sykes.
However, Mitchell’s men will welcome back Cam Gliddon, who plays a crucial role in spreading the floor for Sykes and Mitch Creek, as does Ryan Broekhoff who got hot on Tuesday, nailing 3-of-4 from the arc in Brisbane.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en">Rowdy in the corner = automatic ? <a href="https://t.co/L9Unypnvbm">pic.twitter.com/L9Unypnvbm</a></p>— South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) <a href="https://twitter.com/SEMelbPhoenix/status/1393801101997080580?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 16, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Add to that who Melbourne will match up on the speed and strength of Creek and it all makes for an intriguing chess match early in the game.
“They're obviously the number one team in the league this year, their depth is extraordinarily good, but we've beaten them twice. We haven't seen each other with full squads a lot, so there’s still an element of mystery as to how we match up, how they match up to us,” Mitchell said.
“They haven't seen us outside of maybe the last game with a full squad and obviously we got the win that time, but they were missing Yudai Baba.
“It’s going to be an interesting match-up, varying styles, it’s going to be a great challenge but we’re certainly looking forward to it.”