Breakers’ play-in hopes take a hit with loss to United

Jasper Bruce |

Melbourne United have tightened their grip at the top of the NBL with a 94-81 win over NZ Breakers.
Melbourne United have tightened their grip at the top of the NBL with a 94-81 win over NZ Breakers.

The New Zealand Breakers’ NBL play-in hopes have taken a hit with a 94-81 loss to ladder-leading Melbourne United at John Cain Arena.

Sunday’s defeat leaves the Breakers needing to beat Brisbane in their penultimate game of the regular season to guarantee they will make the Play-In Tournament.

Last season’s runners-up, who have been haunted by injuries all season, could still finish in the top six if they lost that game.

But they would be relying on other results falling their way, and would almost certainly need to beat Adelaide next Sunday.

Coach Mody Maor was able to take some positives out of Sunday’s defeat.

“To come here into back-to-back (games this weekend), the way we have with the travel and everything and the time difference, this looked like a 30-point game at halftime,” he said.

“The fact that it’s 13 matters a lot for us.”

Melbourne United, meanwhile, have moved within touching distance of finishing first.

For United not to end the regular season on top of the ladder, they would have to lose their two remaining games and Perth Wildcats would need to win both of theirs – likely all by big margins.

A 26-16 fourth quarter was the only black mark for United coach Dean Vickerman on Sunday.

“There’s going to be some learnings there,” he said.

“But we saw the type of basketball that we want to play in play-off basketball for three quarters.”

A shrewd offensive play from former NBA guard Matthew Dellavedova (12 points, four assists) tilted a close game towards United midway through the second quarter.

As he charged through the paint en route to the basket, Dellavedova was called for an offensive foul on Will McDowell-White (season-high 19 points), who had been the Breakers’ danger man.

But when the call was flipped by a United coach’s challenge, McDowell-White picked up a third foul and went to the bench.

Breakers' Will McDowell-White and Matthew Dellavedova of Melbourne.
Breakers’ Will McDowell-White (7) and Matthew Dellavedova (8) of Melbourne United. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

The talismanic McDowell-White missed the final six-and-a-half minutes of the quarter, during which United scored 19 points.

Ian Clark (18 points, four rebounds) and Chris Goulding (10 points) each hit three-pointers in the final minute of the second quarter amid a 15-5 run for United.

Having won the quarter 28-17, the hosts took a 55-39 lead into the main change and led by double digits for the rest of the game.

“The second quarter especially … was the kind of basketball that we really want to play,” Vickerman said.

The Breakers’ 10-2 run to begin the fourth helped cut the 23-point three-quarter-time deficit to 10 in the final two minutes.

United centre Jo Lual-Acuil was important late, with 15 of his 19 points coming in the second half, and pulled down 11 rebounds to confirm a double-double.

American guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright led the scorers for the visitors with 24 points but became one of three Breakers to foul out late.