Matthew Dellavedova
Matthew Dellavedova (c) helped Melbourne United to a big win in the NBL grand final series opener. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS
  • basketball

Melbourne crush JackJumpers in NBL title series opener

Shayne Hope March 17, 2024

Chris Goulding and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr have starred as Melbourne United drew first blood in the best-of-five NBL Championship Series with a 104-81 thumping of the Tasmania JackJumpers.

Veteran shooter Goulding nailed 6-of-10 three-point attempts on his way to a game-high 22 points – his best tally in two months – in front of 9108 fans at John Cain Arena on Sunday.

Chris Goulding
 Chris Goulding (r) stepped up for United. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

In-form centre Lual-Acuil got the better of tough opponent Will Magnay in a key battle and posted a double-double, with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Melbourne were also well served by experienced leader Matthew Dellavedova (11 points, six assists), while Ian Clark posted 18 points off the bench.

Luke Travers had nine points and four blocks, and limited the impact of dangerous JackJumpers opponent Jack McVeigh (13 points, seven rebounds).

Melbourne pushed the ball, scoring 18 fast-break points to none, and won a lop-sided rebound count (52-37) as part of a superb defensive performance.

“We preach connection and our guards were really into it tonight, and our fives were in great positions to help,” United coach Dean Vickerman said..

“We contested mid-rangers as well … we made it really tough for them to shoot that one and the biggest thing of the night is just how you rebound against this team.

“We hit first and we saw the result.”

Anthony Drmic (18 points) and Milton Doyle (16) fought hard in a losing battle for Tasmania.

 Milton Doyle (r) was among the best in a losing JackJumpers team. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

But JackJumpers forward Marcus Lee had trouble with a left shoulder injury after half-time and Fabijan Krslovic damaged his left ankle in the dying seconds.

Import guard Jordon Crawford struggled, finishing with seven points on 3-of-13 shooting and three turnovers.

“They played a little bit harder than us across the board,” Tasmania coach Scott Roth said.

“The three-ball got involved and they shot a hell of a percentage (50) from there, which is always the great equaliser in basketball now.

“It’s one game and we re-group, have a few days off, which will be nice, and then we’ll be back at it.”

Vickerman lit a fuse pre-game and set the tone for an intense battle throughout the first half.

The three-time championship-winning coach took a swipe at his opposite number, referencing the JackJumpers’ catchcry by saying Roth can talk about “defending his little island” as much as he wants while United get on with the job.

Goulding was locked in and found his range with a pair of early triples as his eight points, plus six from Lual-Acuil on perfect shooting, helped Melbourne to a 26-24 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Tempers flared when Magnay put a shoulder into Kyle Bowen and stood over his opponent to have words afterwards, costing him offensive and technical fouls in quick succession.

The teams were level 36-36 midway through the second period before a 12-0 run, featuring a pair of crowd-lifting Lual-Acuil dunks, gave Melbourne a handy 51-41 buffer at the main break.

Goulding’s fourth triple kick-started proceedings in the third term and Magnay soon picked up his third and fourth fouls for infringements on Lual-Acuil.

Sean Macdonald’s attempted triple for Tasmania fell short before Ian Clark landed a three-point dagger on the three-quarter time buzzer, and the margin never dipped below double figures from that point.

The series moves to Hobart’s MyState Bank Arena for Game 2 on Friday night.