KINGS FALL TO MELBOURNE
By Matt McQuade
The third biggest home crowd in franchise history couldn’t push the Sydney Kings over the line on Saturday night at Qudos Bank Arena, with the explosive Melbourne United keeping their playoff hopes alive with an 89-76 victory.
The 11,005 in attendance – the largest Kings’ crowd in the Harbour City since November 2004 – saw Melbourne jump Sydney early with a devastating perimeter shooting display, then answer a tremendous Kings’ fightback to win going away.
Sydney roared back from a 19 point second quarter deficit to cut United’s lead to just two midway in the third period, but Melbourne overpowered them in the fourth to jump to 12-13 on the season.
Melbourne was led by four-time Australian Olympian David Andersen, who was a perfect four for four from the perimeter in his tally of 21 points, while import Josh Boone was a monster inside with 12 points and 14 rebounds and Casper Ware had 18 points and five assists.
Sydney’s third loss to Melbourne this season left their playoff hopes in extreme jeopardy with the team now forced to go to Perth Arena – a venue where they have never tasted victory – to beat the Wildcats next Friday night to have a chance at reaching the postseason.
“Melbourne got off to an outstanding start and were playing desperate basketball like we were trying to,” a disappointed Sydney Kings Head Coach Andrew Gaze said afterwards.
“Unfortunately we were stymied by some very good shooting and you give them a lot of credit.”
“Some of that came from our breakdowns, and perhaps strategically we made a mistake with what we were trying to do early on.”
“It was a commendable effort in the way in which we were able to work our way back into the game, particularly given at no stage were we getting productivity from our offence. We got back in through some transition, getting some stops and making our way to the free throw line.”
“Unfortunately, they were just too good.”
The massive crowd was at fever pitch well before tipoff as basketball once again proved it is alive and well in the Harbour City.
Brad Newley (19 points, three rebounds, three assists) made his return from a hamstring strain and had an immediate impact with two dunks in the first four minutes, adding another basket and an assist to Aleks Maric (eight points, 12 rebounds) as the Kings responded to a white-hot United, who nailed three straight triples in jumping to an early lead.
Melbourne extended the margin to ten points as they continued to fill it up from the perimeter, but Craig Moller (eight points, four rebounds) came off the bench to provide instant energy to keep the Kings competitive.
But the difference in the first was outside shooting. Melbourne went five of seven from three point range to Sydney’s zero of seven return to power to an impressive 30-18 lead after one.
Things got no better for Sydney as the second quarter began with Melbourne blowing it out to a 19 point ballgame on the back of triples from Ware and Chris Goulding (16 points).
But Newley maintained his incredible run, going a perfect seven for seven from the field in the first half and igniting an 8-0 spurt as the Kings tried to claw their way back into it.
Goulding briefly quieted the fans with another triple, but the purple and gold started to get stops and convert, and a three point play from Josh Powell (11 points) capped a late 10-2 run as Sydney sliced the margin to a manageable six, down 45-39 at intermission.
After a slow start to the third quarter, Jason Cadee (nine points, four assists) hit his first field goal of the game with a triple over Goulding, then added another three in transition to fire up the crowd at Qudos Bank Arena.
Maric then had a pair of baskets inside, and suddenly the Kings were within two, 51-49, forcing United to call for time as the 11,005 fans went berserk.
Powell had a big dunk to keep the momentum going, but Andersen had five late points and Ware sliced his way into the paint for a bucket to give Melbourne a 60-55 lead with one quarter remaining in what was an intense battle.
Melbourne started the fourth on fire from the perimeter, as Andersen buried two three point bombs and Todd Blanchfield one more to help United jump to a ten point lead in quick time.
Kevin Lisch responded with his first two field goals of the game, but Melbourne held firm and pushed their advantage to 12 with six minutes remaining.
Maric had a big dunk on feed from Lisch to briefly stem the tide, but Boone continued to monster the Kings on the glass with a key tip-in as time became Sydney’s enemy.
To their credit, the purple and gold kept trying, and Powell and Cadee pulled the margin back within single figures, but Andersen nailed a massive triple at the shot clock buzzer with less than two minutes remaining to effectively end the game.
Sydney got no closer the rest of the way, and United sent the magnificent crowd home disappointed.