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GAME REPORT

United Maintain Top Spot Even Without JLA

The Cairns Taipans fought valiantly but ultimately didn’t have the firepower that Melbourne United did who took away the 89-73 road win on Sunday despite missing superstar centre Jo Lual-Acuil.

United made the trip to Cairns Convention Centre for Sunday's first meeting with the Snakes minus Lual-Acuil. Cairns were still missing Nate Jawai, Kouat Noi and Jarrod Kenny as well, but Melbourne's MVP contender remained back home awaiting the birth of his second child

Despite his absence, United came out firing. His replacement in the starting five, Ariel Hukporti, was instrumental in that too helping Melbourne race out to an 11-2 lead.

While Cairns were gradually able to work their way back into the game and did level scores late in the third term, Melbourne kicked up a gear from there.

The rest of the way United was able to outscore the Taipans 35 points to 19 to claim the 16-point win and retain top spot in the NBL with an 11-4 record having won four straight again having earlier gone on a run of eight consecutive wins.

Chris Goulding reached 20 points for the first time at Cairns Convention Centre in his career for a game-high 21 for Melbourne on 5/8 from deep.

He had plenty of support with Jack White producing 13 points and six rebounds, Hukporti 12 points and six boards, Caleb Agada 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, Shea Ili 11 points and three assists, and Matthew Dellavedova 10 points and five assists.

United coach Dean Vickerman was happy with how they dealt with the absence of Lual-Acuil to dig deep and come away with a strong win.

"Jo hates missing anything basketball-wise but it's family first and he's having a big baby boy, and we hope that it's born in the next couple of days so we wish him and his family well," Vickerman said.

"Ariel gets the start which obviously is an opportunity for him to come in, and play extended minutes. I'm pleased with the way he went about it and he got in a bit of foul trouble, but when there was a period in that third quarter when they put their switching group out there.

"We were a bit smaller and didn’t have Jo or Ariel to create an advantage, I thought that bogged us down and they did a good job with their mobile group. I thought Shea putting his head down through that period got the scoreboard ticking back over and it was a really good fourth quarter closeout."

Tahjere McCall top-scored for Cairns with 16 points and six assists with Majok Deng adding 14 points and Keanu Pinder 14 to go with nine rebounds, four monster blocks and three assists.

Taipans coach Adam Forde couldn’t fault his team's effort, but acknowledges there are still some areas needing to be tidied up.

"Melbourne did a great job obviously of being the intimidators from the start. Credit to Melbourne, they were relentless and just kept running at every opportunity that we gave them," Forde said.

"We started off slow and they had a 7-0 run and we weathered that one, and they went on another one and weathered that, and then kept chipping back. Then obviously Melbourne got the final run which pretty much wiped us. 

"The main thing that we want to try and be is that team who wants to show up and represent the jersey, and give the community of Cairns something to be proud and supportive of. Then as we go through that learning curve and become better as a team we'll transfer that over to wins."

However, Scott Machado was hounded all afternoon by both Ili and Dellavedova, and finished with just six points and six assists on 2/11 shooting.

Melbourne showed they weren’t missing Jo Lual-Acuil early scoring the game's first seven points before an Adam Forde timeout. Cairns responded with a bucket to Majok Deng, but it didn’t slow down United with Matthew Dellavedova and Ariel Hukporti pushing their advantage to 11-2.

It was Stephen Zimmerman who helped get things on track for Cairns with six points but still Melbourne was in control up 23-13 by quarter-time.

Caleb Agada pushed Melbourne's lead out to 12 to open the second quarter and a couple of Chris Goulding triples made the Snakes' job tougher of getting back into it.

Dave Barlow hit from downtown as well to restore an 11-point United lead halfway through the second term, but the Taipans were fighting hard.

Bul Kuol hit a pair of corner threes but Melbourne responded through Shea Ili and Dellavedova to be up 48-35 at the break. It was that shooting that was the major difference with United going 54 per cent from the field opposed to Cairns' 40, and hitting 6/11 from beyond the arc to 4/15 for the Snakes.

The Taipans came out firing to start the second half going on a 10-1 run on the back of three-pointers from Tahjere McCall and Majok Deng to suddenly close within four.

Fast forward and the Snakes went on another 9-3 run including a big finish from Keanu Pinder, three-point play from McCall and free-throws to Deng to tie scores up.

Melbourne responded with the next seven points to still lead 61-57 going into three quarter-time despite a late and-one from McCall.

Jack White extended the Melbourne lead to seven when he ran the length of the floor on a defensive rebound to finish with his left-hand, and convert it to a three-point play. 

That was the steadying moment United needed and while the Taipans kept on fighting, they couldn’t quite close the gap and Melbourne went on to score the 16-point road win.

The Taipans now hit the road next Sunday to play the red hot Sydney Kings while Melbourne is back at John Cain Arena to host the Brisbane Bullets on Saturday.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 13

CAIRNS TAIPANS 73 (McCall 16, Pinder 14, Zimmerman 11)

MELBOURNE UNITED 89 (Goulding 21, White 13, Hukporti 12, Agada 12) 

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