JLA’s comeback helps United thump Brisbane in NBL

Steve Barrett |

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr has led NBL ladder-leaders Melbourne United to a 16-point win in Brisbane.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr has led NBL ladder-leaders Melbourne United to a 16-point win in Brisbane.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr has made a spectacular return to the NBL, driving ladder-leading Melbourne United to a clinical 93-77 win against the Brisbane Bullets at Nissan Arena.

Lual-Acuil, who missed the previous two rounds for personal reasons, roared in his return, amassing a career-high 33 points at 70 per cent, 13 rebounds and three steals in just 23 minutes off the bench on Friday night.

Lual-Acuil and captain Chris Goulding (23 points, six-of-12 three-pointers) helped United strengthen their grip on top spot.

“We got our arse kicked last week (by Tasmania) and it was important that we made a response today,” Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman said.

“Defensively we were locked in for the whole game.”

Nathan Sobey (19 points) top-scored for Brisbane but shot at 28 per cent, hounded relentlessly by the hard tag of former NBA stopper Matthew Dellavedova.

With their skipper and best player blanketed, the Bullets struggled to find the basket early, missing 17 of 22 opening-quarter shots to trail 21-13 at the first break.

The hosts trimmed the margin to three points in the second before Lual-Acuil helped Melbourne streak away again.

Lual-Acuil repeatedly attacked the slower, 37-year-old Baynes, pacing a 9-0 United burst to stretch the visitors’ lead to double-digits at halftime.

Sobey got to the free-throw line regularly in the third term and reduced the Bullets’ deficit back to seven points before again being ragdolled by Lual-Acuil.

The athletic 211cm centre buried his second triple, blew past Baynes with another strong drive and threw down a massive double-handed jam to reassert Melbourne’s dominance, their lead swelling to 20 points early in the fourth.

Goulding bombed three more treys in the fourth period while Lual-Acuil continued to add to Brisbane’s pain, scoring at will on Baynes and finishing the match with another dunk on 220cm Bullet Rocco Zikarksy.

“It was a very Melbourne-like game,” Brisbane coach Justin Schueller said.

“That’s the challenge we wanted and we didn’t quite handle it.

The only concern for Melbourne was a final-quarter head injury to import Ian Clark, caught by Baynes’ left elbow in a bone-rattling screen.