Melbourne United has made a flying start to its quest for back-to-back NBL championships by defeating the Tasmania JackJumpers 74-63 in game one of their best-of-three semi-final series.
United’s defensive prowess came to the fore in Thursday night’s contest at John Cain Arena with a dominant 21-7 third-quarter effort to take control of the match and spoil the debut finals appearance for the league newcomers.
Tasmania battled hard to stay in touch in the first half but an 11-0 run in the third quarter laid the platform for Melbourne as its superior rebounding (52-32) and shot-blocking (7-2) took its toll on the visitors.
Caleb Agada came off the bench to lead United with 16 points while Jo Lual-Acuil (15 points, seven rebounds, six blocks) and Matthew Dellavedova (11 points, six rebounds, five assists) also played big roles.
Melbourne looked to combat Tasmania’s import guard duo of Josh Magette and Josh Adams by inserting NBL Sixth Man of the year Shea Ili into its starting lineup.
Dellavedova showed no ill effects from his recent dental surgery by scoring the opening five points of the game while Ili landed back-to-back triples to give United an early advantage.
Jack McVeigh helped the visitors stay on pace but Tasmania’s offence stalled when he went to the bench, missing its last five shots and committing four turnovers as United led 20-15 after the first quarter.
Lual-Acuil makes explosive start to second quarter
Lual-Acuil brushed off a scoreless opening term with an explosive start to the second term, the league MVP finalist attacking the rim with vigour as Melbourne extended its advantage into double digits.
Josh Adams joined McVeigh to spark Tasmania’s attack with the visitors trailing 41-36 at halftime before closing the margin to three at the start of the third quarter thanks to a basket from Fabian Krslovic.
But United responded with 11 unanswered points, Ariel Hukporti providing the highlight by following up his own blocked shot to run the floor and slam home to re-establish a double-digit lead.
Agada’s acrobatic finish as time expired handed Melbourne a 62-43 lead after three quarters with the visitors making just 2-of-16 shots from the field in the term.
Tasmania put up some resistance in the final quarter but the result leaves coach Scott Roth with plenty of work to do ahead of Saturday’s game two in Hobart.