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GAME REPORT

United Do Enough to Advance, Break Bullets Hearts

Melbourne United has never quite clicked all of #NBL20, until now, and it took until the very last regular season game for them to beat South East Melbourne Phoenix 109-90 and secure a semi-final berth.


Coming off appearing in the past two NBL Grand Finals and adding Shawn Long, Melo Trimble and welcoming back triple championship winner Casey Prather, there were high hopes for Melbourne for this season.


But they started off losing three straight, including the season-opener to the Phoenix in the first ever Throwdown, and despite a six-game winning streak, just never got clicking on all cylinders.


That's why when they lost back in Round 18 to Brisbane to slip to 12-13, their finals hopes looked forlorn. However, they did the job against the Illawarra Hawks and then came into the final round nothing less than wins over Cairns and South East Melbourne was required.


Both New Zealand and Brisbane were in the hunt for fourth spot too, and both won their games this weekend. The Breakers firstly beat the Phoenix on Friday to take fourth. But Brisbane stunned Cairns by 36 on Saturday to replace them.


So Melbourne had to beat South East Melbourne at Melbourne Arena on Sunday and with 9501 fans in the building, they withstood a spirit effort from the Mitch Creek-less Phoenix on the back of captain Chris Goulding's 28 points to secure the 19-point triumph.


Goulding nailed 6/11 from three-point range with Melo Trimble again coming off the bench for 20 points and four assists. David Barlow added 18 points on 5/5 from deep with Shawn Long producing 21 points and 11 rebounds in yet another double-double.


"Wanting another playoff berth for this club, that’s what we’ve been speaking about. Now we’ll reset, we’ll take a break and we’ll enjoy this… for today," Goulding said.


"It's a little more than a normal regular season game. We’ve been building towards this point for the last seven games. When we play our best basketball we can compete and best anyone. That’s what we’ll be looking to do [against Sydney]."


That means Melbourne finishes the season in fourth place at 15-13 and will now take on the Sydney Kings in the semi finals with Game 1 at Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday February 29. Melbourne will host Game 2 two days later and if required, Game 3 will be back on Sydney on Thursday March 5.


Ben Madgen top-scored for the Phoenix with 23 points while Tai Wesley added 20, John Roberson 13 and Kyle Adnam 12.


Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell was understandably flat afterwards that his team couldn’t end the season how they started with a Throwdown win.


"Disappointing. Would have been nice to have put them in mothballs. It just would have been nice to win. No animosity or anything like that," Mitchell said.


"That was a playoff game from Melbourne United I thought. The guys with trinkets on their fingers came to play. They just showed that there’s a level required in the playoffs. It was a little disappointing to go down by the margin that we did."


The Phoenix always had their work cut out in the absence of superstar captain Creek, but then the scoreboard was soon against them as Melbourne got rolling.


Thanks to two free throws and a three-pointer, Goulding had five points in the first 45 seconds of Throwdown IV. He followed up another David Barlow three-pointer with a second of his own, making it an 11-0 run to start the match.


Ex-Melbourne forward Tai Wesley settled proceedings for the Phoenix to get them off the mark, but the scoring barrage continued for United. When Goulding made his third three-pointer, he had rocketed to 15 points for the quarter.


At the first break, United had racked up 34 points, but the pain was relieved somewhat by a buzzer-beating layup from John Robertson for the Phoenix to get them within 10 at quarter-time.


Goulding was held scoreless in the second as the Phoenix drew closer, albeit slightly. At half-time, United led by nine points (55-46).


A four-point play from Roberson a couple of minutes into the third brought it to a four-point margin, which was a remarkable feat considering the buffer had ballooned to 16 at one point. When Ben Madgen made two free throws, it was a one-possession game (63-60).


With five minutes left in the third, Goulding made his first field goal for nearly two quarters (a dagger three) and waltzed in an easy lay-up in transition on the very next possession – the 10-point lead was restored.


Goulding’s sixth three capped a 13-point quarter for the United star and helped his team to an 81-73 three quarter-time edge.


The Phoenix began the fourth quarter with their customary fight, but the seconds were well and truly ticking down on their season now.


When Barlow converted on an athletic drive to the basket and added the subsequent and-one, it was a 16-point margin. With just over five minute left, this one was over.


As the Phoenix cleared their bench, the fans farewelled their starters for the final time this year. Briefly, they also welcomed Next Gen recruit Terry Armstrong, who played out the last few minutes of a frustrating season.


Melbourne extended their season and booked a showdown with the Sydney Kings with this 19-point win.


Having started off with three straight wins and at 5-2, the Phoenix lost 17 of their 21 games to end their inaugural campaign at 9-19 but it wasn’t without positives for coach Simon Mitchell to build upon.


NBL ROUND 20


SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX 90 (Madgen 23, Wesley 20, Roberson 13)

 

MELBOURNE UNITED 109 (Goulding 28, Long 21, Trimble 20)


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