The second of the National Basketball League (NBL – Australia) v National Basketball Association (NBA – US) exhibition games took place this morning as Melbourne United took on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and new acquisitions Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, no one really gave the Australian side a chance. However Melbourne came to play and OKC found themselves in a battle from the start.
To kick things off it was Dave Barlow, Casper Ware, Josh Boone, Casey Prather and Tai Wesley in the starting five for United. OKC rolled out their likely starting five for the NBA season; Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson.
Throughout a back and forth first half, United was matching it in all stat categories across the board with their much more fancied opponents.
Ware, Prather and Boone (Ware and Boone with previous NBA experience, Prather with NBA Summer League experience) all acclimated to the pace of the game quickly. The other thing in the NBL sides favour is that a number of their Australian players also have NBA and/or international experience. David Andersen has played in the NBA for a number of seasons in the past (and is one of the longest serving Boomers), Dave Barlow has international experience with the Boomers at Olympic Games and Tai Wesley has also represented New Zealand at international level. Not to mention Chris Goulding, who unfortunately isn’t playing, but he has NBA Summer League and international experience.
Aside from a three-four minute stretch to end the first half, where OKC scored nine unanswered points, it was extremely competitive and only a point or two in it.
The score at half time saw OKC with the lead 49-44.
The teams came out with their starting lineups to begin the third quarter and United pulled the margin back to about even with a couple of threes (OKC had a scoring possession as well) to get things underway. United then fell in a love with the three point line for too many consecutive possessions and an and-1 to Andre Roberson and a transition three to Carmelo Anthony had the NBL side calling a timeout to regroup as the game threatened to open up against them.
OKC appeared to be hitting their stride in this quarter, at one point they had United missing eight consecutive shot attempts on their possessions by playing tight defense and forcing bad shots. However, United came back again with some good motion offense that got them looks right at the basket.
At three quarter time it was OKC still in the lead, 70-66.
The fourth quarter began with Josh Boone and Casey Prather making baskets for United to bring the scores back to even as the teams had a number of bench players on court with a couple of starters.
Steven Adams continued to prove a handful down low against the smaller United players, similar to how Rudy Gobert (Utah) was hard to stop for the Sydney Kings last week. Adams outmuscled and outworked the United players on the glass and performed nice, soft hook shots around the basket (along with a couple of dunks) to keep OKC ticking along just in front of the side from Melbourne.
Unbelievably United had two chances to sneak away with a win, after calling a timeout with 15 seconds to go in the game and OKC up by one solitary point, they had a couple of layup opportunities that were both BLOCKED by the OKC defense.
Final score had OKC just beating the NBL side, 86-85.
For Melbourne, what a game! Most people wouldn’t have given them any chance to be in this one and they were not only in it but could have come away with the win.
The stand out performers for both teams – Paul George (OKC) showed off what he’s going to bring to the table at his new team and Casper Ware (Melb) covered a number of stat categories for United, directing traffic and keeping them in the game.
The focus now turns to the Brisbane Bullets playing against the Phoenix Suns in a few days time in the third and final NBL vs NBA exhibition game.