Melbourne United have reclaimed top spot on the NBL ladder after grinding out a tough 84-78 victory over New Zealand Breakers.
United were far from their best but made a strong finish to Saturday’s clash at John Cain Arena to return to the top of the NBL standings with a 16-5 win-loss record.
Perth’s upset loss in Adelaide earlier in the day set the stage for United to leapfrog them into first place if they could knock off the Breakers and extend their current winning streak to six games.
Melbourne closed a dour opening half with a slender 39-37 advantage then broke clear late in the third quarter to set a new franchise record by winning their ninth consecutive home game.
Scotty Hopson finished with 19 points for United but appeared to hurt his ankle in the closing seconds of the match while Jock Landale completed a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds).
Coach Dean Vickerman was happy with his side’s defensive effort for the first three quarters and praised his bench players for stepping up in the final minutes of the third period, Mason Peatling and Sam McDaniel combining for seven points in United’s pivotal 11-0 run.
“I thought the energy of that group was great and it was a good experiment to put (Hopson) at the point,” said Vickerman.
“It was the first time that we’ve done that and he created some advantages at the point guard position as well,” he added, with Hopson having helped cover the absence of injured guard Shea Ili.
The Breakers lost leading scorer Tai Webster to a calf strain prior to the match but welcomed the NBL debut of new import Levi Randolph and the return of experienced centre Rob Loe.
Forward Finn Delany was the clear standout performer for the Breakers with a career-high 33 points, including 20 in the first half, but it was not enough to prevent New Zealand’s sixth loss in the past seven games.
“We have hope in our team because for a long time we were shorthanded and now we have a few new players and we’ve got a functional new roster,” coach Dan Shamir said after the loss.
“We couldn’t really catch rhythm offensively and it’s disappointing but I’m hoping that quickly we will get to play winning basketball.”
With scores tied at 50-50 midway through the third quarter, the match swung in Melbourne’s favour as their makeshift line-up held the Breakers scoreless for the final four and a half minutes of the term.
A 6-0 start to the final quarter gave New Zealand hope but Landale added a pair of baskets and Chris Goulding drained a three-pointer to keep Melbourne on top.