It’s been a long time between drinks for South East Melbourne and the Brisbane Bullets took full advantage, producing a franchise record in the process.
The best first-quarter blitz in Brisbane’s NBL history shot the Bullets to a 100-84 victory over a rusty and dusty South East Melbourne at Nissan Arena on Saturday.
The Phoenix had not played for 28 days due to Covid postponements with their last outing coming against Sydney on December 18.
And it showed.
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The Bullets had no mercy in punishing South East Melbourne’s lethargy at both ends of the floor with the contest all but over by quarter-time with Brisbane leading by a whopping 31-6.
It was the largest quarter-time lead in Brisbane’s history dating back to 1979 and the lowest points in a quarter in Phoenix history.
The final margin flattered the Phoenix and hid how lopsided the contest was for large portions.
An upbeat Brisbane scored the first 13 points of the match as the Phoenix lacked any sort of defensive intensity and were slow and stagnant in offence. Nine Brisbane players scored in the first quarter while just two Phoenix players got off their duck. South East Melbourne hit two of 19 field goal attempts and no three-pointers from eight attempts while the Bullets found their range with 10 of 19 from the field in the first term.
Brisbane marched to a 57-29 by halftime and enjoyed a 71-59 buffer at the last change as Nathan Sobey (18 points), Robert Franks (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Lamar Patterson (12 points, nine assists) led the home side while Mitch Creek had a team-high 19 points for the Phoenix who fell to their second-straight loss after three wins to start the season.
Phoenix head coach Simon Mitchell said while the extended lay-off due to Covid was a factor in the result, Brisbane deserved credit for the way it put his team to the sword.
“It (Covid) had to have contributed. It looked like we were stuck in mud. We rotated pretty quickly and the guys who came in looked like they were stuck in mud too. There’s a reason for it but they (Brisbane) were really good, really efficient,’’ Mitchell said.
“They cut us to ribbons with their execution, they worked hard on the boards. To talk about us and where we are at and the things we were going through probably takes a little bit too much away from the performance they put on.’’
The thumping win continued Brisbane’s yoyo season with their six-games following a loss-win-loss-win-loss-win sequence. The Bullets have beaten the top team (Perth) and lost to the last-placed club (New Zealand). Their shooting stats from wins compared to losses are as wide as the Grand Canyon as they maintained an 11-game winning streak when they score more than 90 points. When they score 85 or less, they have lost their last 20.
Brisbane has a run of home games in the next month – starting with this Friday’s clash with Sydney – and coach Duncan said if the Bullets can “play the right way”, they can do some damage.
“The guys took the challenge to step out on the floor and play the right way and bring more energy and bring more effort. Covid is a real thing, it’s affecting all the teams within the league but in saying that we have the pieces to compete and win some of these games,’’ Duncan said.
“Now it’s a challenge for us to win another game and another game.
“We understand we can beat the top teams but we understand we can lose to teams that aren’t doing as well. Our mindset, we have to improve … there’s a way to play basketball and when we play the right way, we will have success and that’s the challenge.
“It’s nice to beat some of these top teams but we have to take care of some of the business when we are at home.’’
Jason Cadee – who celebrated his 100th game as a Bullet – said the key to the Bullets being a force was executing the “little things” consistently.
“We can start to string together games which is going to be a challenge in this league but we are starting to find our feet and tonight is a good way to bounce back.’’
Cadee was a valuable contributor against the Phoenix with eight points and six assists. When he plays well, the Bullets enjoy success.
The game featured three of the five tallest players in the NBL with Brisbane’s Chuanxing Lu (225cm) and Tyrell Harrison (214cm) battling in the paint with the Phoenix’s Zhou Qi (216cm). Lu and Qi – Chinese national teammates – rarely crossed paths on court but their presence would have attracted a large viewership in China. Qi is leading the league in blocks and was out of sorts early when he attracted an unsportsmanlike foul. Lu was on court for more than four minutes in the first term blowout and had an impact. He then hit three-straight buckets in the third term over Qi who was then benched.
Creek’s lone hand
Mitch Creek entered the match as the second leading scorer in the NBL with a career-high 23.3 points per game as well as being the most accurate in the NBL from three-point land. Creek had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists and was well contained by the Bullets early in the contest. His fellow Phoenix star Ryan Broekhoff – who only cleared Covid protocols on Friday – was quiet early but finished with 13 points in 21 minutes. For all the Phoenix’s talent and NBA experience across the roster, it counted for little.
HOTTEST TEAM IN THE NBL CONTINUES NZ DOMINANCE
New Zealand Bunnies.
It might seem harsh on a team that has spent the best part of 12 months on the road and faces the rest of this season’s games in Australia, but that is exactly what the Breakers are when they play Melbourne United.
The champions put their foot to the floor when it was needed to record a routine win, 89-78 — their 11th in the past 12 meetings between these two sides.
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In scenes reminiscent of Hawthorn’s Kennett curse against bitter AFL rival Geelong, the Breakers simply cannot topple United.
They did their best, leading at the end of the first and at the long break.
But United is putting together one of the best defensive seasons in NBL history, restricting teams to a league-best 70 points per night and holding opponents to a historic 35.4 per cent from the field.
The Breakers did shoot it at a slightly better clip — 43 per cent — but they allowed Melbourne to drain half their attempts and were crushed on the glass, 50-25.
“That was a tough game, the Breakers are really good and persevering through some tough circumstances,” United captain Chris Goulding said.
“Credit to them they pushed us tonight, we just went through a stage where we stepped up our defence at the start of that fourth quarter and started making some shots.
“Happy to get that win.”
It was a banner night for Goulding, who led all scorers with 23 points.
CG43 hit a pair of free throws early in the last quarter to reach 5000 NBL points — the United maestro has more points than any other active player, besides Adelaide 36ers veteran big man Daniel Johnson.
His fourth three-pointer of the night took him to 885 and lifted him into 14th place on the all-time NBL makes list, leapfrogging the great Rob Rose.
Big man Jo Lual-Acuil annihilated the Breakers, draining 11 of his 21 shots on his way to his first 20-10 game in the NBL.
Breakers imports Jeremiah Martin (20), Peyton Siva (19) and Hugo Besson (17) tried hard, but United always seemed to have their measure.
After a slow start, Melbourne became the first team in NBL22 to win five games in a row, reinforcing its back-to-back title credentials.
They now prepare for a Sunday blockbuster with fellow title-fancy Illawarra.
“We were meant to play them last weekend … so they had an extra week to prepare for us and us for them,” Goulding said.
“Really quality team, they have scorers all over the board and obviously we know they’re a really well-coached team, so a great test for us.
“We’ve been winning some games, but this is another test.”
MELBOURNE UNITED 89 d NZ BREAKERS 78
Goulding 23 pts, 4 3PM
Lual-Acuil 22 pts, 12 rebs
Agada 16 pts
Peatling 12 rebounds
Martin 20 pts, 4 3PM
Siva 19 pts, 5 asts, 4 3PM
Besson 17 pts
Slip and slide
Those pesky court decals reared their ugly head again, with Martin appearing to slip on the logo in the key. Martin pulled up gingerly and winced in pain, but was able to shake it off and continue playing. With digital court advertising cost prohibitive, the NBL has tried hard to strike a balance between its hardwood decals and court safety, but it is still an issue that arises from time to time.
Remember me, coach
Jack White was inserted into the starting line-up but it was his understudy Mason Peatling who impressed. The 24-year-old big man, who manned the four in United’s 2021 title run while White recovered from a torn ACL, hustled and bustled his way to 12 rebounds in 18 minutes. United has enough stars, so Peatling knows it’s the meat and potatoes stuff that will win him more playing time.
He struggled to adjust to the NBL early, suffered a hamstring injury and the Breakers have another import waiting in the wings. But Siva appears to have found his rhythm in the league. In a bench role, the pint-sized point guard gave his side the start it needed with a nine-point first quarter on his way to 19 for the game. Something to build on for the former Detroit Piston.
What of Dan Shamir?
The Breakers coach is always animated, but he was in a particular mood on Friday night. He’s had his own personal battle with Covid, his team was ravaged by it and now, as mentioned, they’re stuck in Australia again. But how long does that give him a pass for? The Breakers are 1-7 now, are getting sliced to bits defensively, conceding nearly 90 points per game, and some pundits have questioned if the right mouths are being fed. The two 18-year-olds — Besson and Dieng — are talented, but are yet to consistently produce the nuanced basketball a winning team demands. Besson is a brilliant shooter, but the combo guard had no assists against United and with Dieng, Siva and William McDowell-White all needing the ball in their hands to be effective, there is a clutter. That clutter has meant less opportunity for their best player — Finn Delaney — after he produced a career year last season. There’s no doubt the talent is there, but they haven’t meshed into a winning ball club.
INJURY NIGHTMARE IN KINGS’ FIRST GAME BACK
It was supposed to be their triumphant return to the court but the Sydney Kings’ first game of the year has ended in both insult, at the hands of their most bitter rival, and injury to star recruit RJ Hunter.
Covid-related postponements meant neither the Kings nor the Illawarra Hawks had taken to the court in 2022 before Thursday night’s 97-89 Freeway Series win to the Hawks.
Former NBA first round draft pick Hunter had to wait even longer than that, with knee soreness keeping him out since December 16.
His return to the fray lasted less than ten minutes.
With the rock in his hands just outside the arc in the first quarter, Hunter abruptly hunched over in pain without a hand being laid on him.
The American quickly hit the deck and clutched his knee in anguish, eventually requiring the assistance of two trainers to make the short distance off the court.
Ominously, the Hawks scored eight unanswered points after Hunter left the contest to take the lead for the first time and force a Kings time-out.
Medical staff suspect Hunter has suffered a patella tendon injury, meaning his lay-off could be a long one.
The Kings must now decide as soon as possible whether to take another chance on the injury-prone Hunter or go to market for his replacement.
“If it’s a long gap, you’re going to have to get a new import,” said Corey Williams in commentary for ESPN.
“This league is too good, the competition is too tough for you to just sit and wait again for a player who’s re-injured. You need to get a new import.”
A high-quality, high-octane contest unfolded in the Illawarra and the American imports led the charge.
Tyler Harvey shook off the Hawks’ slow start to rack up 19 points by three-quarter time. Aussie Sam Froling worked hard for 27 points, nine rebounds and two steals at the final buzzer.
On his return from an ankle injury, Jaylen Adams had three assists within two-and-a-half minutes of the game and was the architect of the Kings’ early 11-0 lead.
The contest was never as one-sided again, and when Chase Buford injected Adams back into the contest after a restful third quarter, he would’ve hoped for immediate impact.
Instead, the Hawks kept their feet on the accelerator to take the chocolates home.
The Kings faithful mightn’t have gotten the result they were after but the passion and intensity on show from both sides was exactly what Aussie basketball fans missed during a month of Covid disruptions.
Late in the second quarter, Kings veteran Shaun Bruce fell to the ground attempting a steal on Duop Reath.
The much smaller Bruce refused to be deterred and while still on his knees, he regathered the ball.
From the ground, he passed half the length of the court and connected with Cooks, whose ensuing dunk was an undisputed highlight of the game.
His CV mightn’t boast the NBA stints that Adams’ does, but the play was all heart from the back-up Kings guard.
Duop kept quiet
There were bound to be some signs of rust after such a long hiatus but Hawks star Duop Reath was hardly sighted on Thursday night.
In Reath’s last game, he scored 21 points to go with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
But on Thursday, he sat the entire last quarter out, having been restricted to only six points and four rebounds. It was undoubtedly his quietest game of the season.