GF2 Preview | Melbourne United v Perth Wildcats

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Melbourne United v Perth Wildcats

When: 2.50pm (AEDT), Sunday 10 March

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Cotton On (AU)

Where: Melbourne Arena

Broadcast: 9GO; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ



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Perth 81 (White 19, Brandt 14, Cotton 10, Kay 10, Wagstaff 10) d Melbourne 71 (Ware 19, Goulding 15, Kennedy 11), RAC Arena, Grand Final, Game 1

This was a trademark Cat attack in The Jungle, a strangling defensive performance in the first half followed by a withering assault after intermission, Perth scoring more in the third term than in the opening 20 minutes, while holding United to 5-of-19 from the field and forcing four turnovers for the quarter, then running hard off misses and miscues to build a match-winning lead.


The now

Melbourne enter this game with some serious defensive questions to answer. They didn’t do a good job of restricting the Wildcats’ long-range looks in Game 1 and dodged a bullet with good shooters missing open shots, but they also failed to protect the interior, Perth punishing overplays with penetration and off-the-ball movement to shoot 53 per cent inside. That conversion rate that was also helped by 15 United turnovers, which fuelled the Cats’ running game.

Dean Vickerman’s men have shot 17-of-58 from the arc in their past two games against Perth, and have only averaged 31.2 points in the paint against their grand final opponent this season. Where they have claimed their 2-0 edge at Melbourne Arena has been through the possession game, where they are +13 at home compared to +1 in the west. Squaring the series is going to require a big night on the effort plays, and shooters to convert extra opportunities into points.


The match-ups

Mitch McCarron v Terrico White – The Wildcats’ swingman was too slick off the ball for Kennedy, who is an outstanding on-ball defender but was unable to navigate the myriad of screens Perth are now providing Terrico, who has averaged 20.5ppg at 41 per cent from the arc in his past four games to emerge as the Wildcats leading scorer at the pointy end of the season.

McCarron’s outstanding defensive game may be the key to subduing White, but Money Making Mitch must keep his hands out of the cookie jar after fouls limited him to a season-low 19 minutes in Game 1. Only Kay has a better +/- in the NBL this season, with McCarron’s ability at both ends of the floor, and on the boards, as crucial to Melbourne as his higher-profile teammates.

DJ Kennedy v Nick Kay – Dave Barlow has played almost as many minutes this season as the previous three combined, and it has taken its toll, DB 4-of-23 from the field in his past five games. That’s where Kennedy’s time at power forward becomes more crucial, especially as that is arguably the only place where United have a speed mismatch over their Perth opponents.

Kay didn’t have huge Game 1 numbers, but still shot 50 per cent from the floor, grabbed 3 o-boards, dished 5 dimes, pinched 3 steals, swatted 2 shots and had a next-to-game-high +14. Not bad. Kay also nailed his only triple – he’s 4-of-5 in Melbourne this season – and the fact United’s four-men were forced to respect him on the perimeter reduced their ability to pack the paint.


The stats

In the past two games against Melbourne, Cotton and Clint Steindl have shot 2-of-24 from long range, but their teammates have nailed a blistering 14-of-27 at 52 per cent.

Perth have committed nine more turnovers than United in the season series, but scored nine more points from turnovers. In Game 1 they had 13 more points from just four more Melbourne miscues.

In their two home dates with Perth, United have scored 36 second chance points from 39 offensive rebounds, while the Cats have managed just 20 second chance points from 32 o-boards.

In Round 18 in Melbourne, United were 4-of-6 on triples after offensive rebounds, and 4-of-23 on all other three-point attempts.


The story

Like so many things the Perth Wildcats do, it was simple but brilliantly effective.

The Cats’ big men came ready to play in Game 1, setting numerous bone-jarring screens in the opening half to set the tone for the game.

“The way we screened compare to the way they screened tonight, we’ve got to make an improvement,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.

But with the referees hot on illegal screens, and Melbourne making adjustments at half-time, the opening of third quarter was more noticeable for how Perth didn’t screen.

It started with a Nick Kay slip for a running one-hander, followed by Angus Brandt diving to the basket early in transition for an uncontested jam.

The challenge against United’s vaunted defence is to get the ball moving, but it’s easier said than done when their aggressive ball-screen defence puts opposition guards on the back foot.

The Wildcats found a clear answer after intermission, their bigs not making contact on screens, leaving the scene early and often rolling short so they could quickly receive the first pass or force a perimeter defender to suck in.

“As the game wore on I didn’t think our ability to contain the on-ball screen was good enough,” Vickerman said.

“That allowed them to turn the corner and they had some easy decisions once they got around our screens.”

The well-executed ploy put doubt into the minds of Melbourne’s bigs, and suddenly the likes of Bryce Cotton, Mitch Norton and Terrico White were able to attack at speed rather than dealing with aggressive shows.

“Offensively we just had to tinker a little bit with it, and Bryce gets past his man, penetrates and creates,” Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said.

Once this penetration opened up, United’s defence was at their mercy, Jesse Wagstaff nailing two massive triples on kick-outs as David Barlow hedged towards the penetrator.

“Jesse’s one we have a great respect for from the three-point line but we just got collapsed too far and he was able to make a couple of big threes,” Vickerman said.

So while United held Cotton to 10 points, Perth found a way to capitalise on the attention he drew, and their 58 per cent conversion in the second half is cause for concern for Vickerman and Co.

Melbourne will no doubt adjust on the defensive end, but where they really need answers is finding avenues to the basket against the NBL’s number one ranked D.

Perth have now restricted the defending champs to 76.1 points per 40 minutes this season, with Sydney (84.3) the only other opponent to keep them below 89ppg.

Going into Game 1, a massive 22 per cent of their score against the Cats had come from offensive rebounds, but they were held to just nine second chance points on Friday.

United got sucked into stagnant ball-screen action with Casper Ware and Chris Goulding, rarely forcing Perth out of rebounding position, and a number of that pair’s seven turnovers came from over-handling the Wilson in those situations.

“The biggest contributor to the game was we just turned the ball over far too many times tonight and we got punished for it,” Vickerman said.

“When we’ve lost some games this year it’s happened, we’ve turned the ball over, live ball turnovers that are pretty hard to recover from.”

The answer appears to be in ball-screens when the Wildcats defence isn’t set, which forces reactive rotations rather than proactive ones, giving space to the ball-handler and opening up passing lanes.

Alex Pledger provided disciplined transition screening later in the third term, allowing Ware to nail a transition triple and then find Barlow one pass away for a follow up long bomb.

In the half-court, United also had success getting the ball back to Ware after movement, where he could quickly move into ball-screens with his five-men with Barlow isolated one pass away, making it difficult for Perth’s power forwards to help on the roller.

That softened Perth’s shows on the screen, allowing Ware to attack in one-on-one situations, so watch for Barlow and Kennedy to be located close to screening action regularly in Game 2 to force Nick Kay out of help position and rebounding position.

Also expect McCarron and Kennedy to get the ball more in the low block when facing smaller opponents to try and generate some inside-out action that was missing on Friday.

Yet while Melbourne do have to make adjustments, the reality is they are 11-4 at Melbourne Arena this season, including 2-0 against the Wildcats.

“We have to be ultra-confident,” Vickerman said.

“They did their job at home tonight and we’ve got to make sure we do our job and keep this series well alive.”

Perth will take confidence from their last trip to Melbourne, where they did everything but win despite being without Norton and White.

Mitch belied six weeks on the sidelines to make a significant impact in Game 1, getting the better of Goulding at both ends of the floor when the pair were matched up.

“Mitch was really good and aggressive,” Gleeson said.

“His shot looked good, he was attacking the rim off the dribble and his defence was outstanding.”

Terrico also showed his class on Friday, making the most of the fact the defence was usually preoccupied with Cotton and Kay, and he must be a greater priority in Game 2.

Gleeson is aware his team’s last win in Melbourne was 466 days ago, however, and that nothing short of their best basketball will put them within a game of the title.

“It’s just about us playing a good brand of basketball, make sure we’ve got each other’s back defensively and we’re sharing the ball offensively,” he said.

“It’s a tough environment to play in Melbourne, the role players are a little bit more comfortable playing on their home court and getting their shots up.

“If we play good defence like that again we know we’re in with a shot, but we know how tough it is and how good Melbourne are.

“They’re the defending champs, and until you beat the defending champs you’re not the champ.”

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