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GAME REPORT

United Overcome Bullets to Close in on Regular Season Title

Melbourne United took another step towards securing top spot and the regular season #NBL22 championship but it required some late Chris Goulding heroics to beat the shorthanded Brisbane Bullets 88-79.

The Bullets were still without superstar Boomer Nathan Sobey as they have been for the majority of the second half of the season, but also Tom Digbeu, Ty Harrison, Tamuri Wigness, Isaiah Moss and Taane Samuel as they took on the league-leaders at John Cain Arena on Saturday night.

It didn’t stop the Bullets putting together an impressive fighting performance as they attempted to claim a late season scalp with Jason Cadee, Lamar Patterson and Anthony Drmic, in particular, stepping up. 

Brisbane led by six late in the third quarter and still by two with just under five minutes to go, but then Goulding took over for Melbourne. Having gone 1/6 from deep up to that point, Goulding knocked down two triples in the space of a minute to spark a match-winning run of 12 consecutive points for United.

It secured the eventual nine-point win that sees Melbourne improve to 19-7 on the season with two games to go to remain in top spot ahead of the Sydney Kings who are 18-7 having won 13 straight.

Jo Lual-Acuil produced a big evening for United made up of 25 points and 13 rebounds with Goulding finishing with 13 points and four rebounds, Shea Ili 13 points, seven assists and five steals, Matthew Dellavedova 10 points and three assists, and Yudai Baba eight points.

United coach Dean Vickerman found it difficult to prepare for the shorthanded Bullets, but was happy with how his team warmed to the task.

"Leading into the game there was concern and it was hard to prepare when you didn’t know who was playing for them or how many players they were going to have," Vickerman said.

"It was a team just coming in swinging with the guys they've got but they still had enough talent there to be really good with Cadee, Franks, Drmic and Patterson, and those guys were good. They came out shooting the basketball really well and made five threes in that first quarter to get them going. 

"We thought they might play some zone and that's probably the first game all year we've seen that much zone, and we navigated our way through it a little bit. It was good to experience that and go through it, and we'll make some improvements in that area and next time we see I think we'll do a better job."

Patterson finished with 23 points and nine rebounds for Brisbane with Cadee adding 20 points, six assists and six rebounds and Drmic 19 points, three boards and three assists including going 4/9 from deep. Robert Franks returned to add 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

Bullets coach James Duncan couldn't fault his team's brave performance in challenging circumstances even if it was still frustrating to lose from a winning position.

"It was a valiant effort from the boys and I can't really fault that. It was 69-67 with five minutes left in the fourth and we were up," Duncan said.

"We got the offensive rebound and I think it was Ili who steals it or tips it, and takes it up the other end and gets the layup and that kind of got them their energy and their juice. 

"But throughout the course of the game we just fought and played for each other, did the right things and credit to the assistant coaches and the team for playing the zone and making them hesitate a little bit. 

"Obviously when you lose another one like that it hurts but I can't fault what we did on the floor tonight, absolutely not."

Despite the absence of six regular players, the Bullets came out ready to take it up to the league-leaders, and led 8-5 early with Anthony Drmic and Jason Cadee combining for those eight points.

Triples from Shea Ili and Matthew Dellavedova kept Melbourne close, but a second triple already to Drmic saw Brisbane back up 18-12, and then still 26-23 by quarter-time with their last eight points courtesy of Lamar Patterson.

Neither team would have particularly liked their opening quarter defence and that didn’t really change in the second. Melbourne got the better of things early going on a 10-4 run including triples from Yudai Baba and Ili to lead 33-30.

Jo Lual-Acuil was having his way down low on his way to 14 points and nine rebounds in the half and when Melbourne went on another 7-0 run they were up 40-34, but the Bullets were playing with great freedom offensively.

They closed the half on a 12-5 run with Drmic going into half-time with 14 points, Cadee 12 and Patterson 10 as they combined for 36 of the team's 46 points to lead Melbourne by one at the break.

The Bullets weren’t going away and when Robert Franks and Cadee combined for another five straight points midway through the third term, they were up four. They were soon out by six, but Melbourne had tied scores up again thanks to a triple from Dave Barlow on three quarter-time.

The teams continued to trade blows in the fourth until Goulding drained a three to put Melbourne back up with four minutes on the clock. He hit another a minute later before a pair of free-throws and his individual 8-0 run put United up six.

Lual-Acuil then closed the deal and United saw off the Bullets' charge to win by nine.

United back up to host the Cairns Taipans on Monday while the Bullets finish their season with one final game next Saturday also against the Snakes in Far North Queensland.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 20

MELBOURNE UNITED 88 (Lual-Acuil 25, Goulding 13, Ili 13)

BRISBANE BULLETS 79 (Patterson 23, Cadee 20, Drmic 19) 

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