Scott Roth has likened the physical semi-final between Melbourne United and Tasmania to the epic NBA battles between the ‘Bad Boy’ Detroit Pistons and Michael Jordan’s Chicago.
The JackJumpers had their inaugural playoff game ripped away from them by the reigning champions on the back of a suffocating third quarter, in a 74-63 result that leaves the new kids on the block playing for their season on Saturday.
The Bulls, led by a maturing Michael Jordan, struggled to get over the hump in legendary playoff battles with the brutal Pistons, led by the likes of hard men Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre and Rick Mahorn.
Roth called it “smash-mouth basketball”.
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“They’ve got some pitbulls in the back court that can really get after you … they got some really good athletes, it’s a hell of a team.
“It’s a battle, this is probably back when I played it’s the Detroit Pistons v Chicago Bulls kind of old-school basketball smash-mouth, bang-up kind of game.
“We’re really proud of our guys for not just imploding and letting go of it and fighting back in this game and making it respectable
“Not too many times you walk out of a game and you hold your opponents to 74 points and you think you’ve lost a game like that.
“We had a good fight.”
United coach Dean Vickerman says his side isn’t quite the Bad Boys — but he was buoyed by the third quarter defensive brick wall that held the JackJumpers to just seven points on two made field goals.
“I enjoyed those battles. I was a Pistons’ fan back in the day. We’re certainly not the Bad Boys, but we get after it defensively,” Vickerman said.
“Any time you put arguably the two best defensive teams in the league in a playoff series, I’m not surprised by what we saw tonight.
“The commitment of both teams to defend and to fight through screens and do everything they can to make it difficult.
“There was a run of seven-eight stops (by United) during that third quarter and I thought it was a better focus.
“Through that third quarter I thought we were so much more solid in our coverage and our communication.”
Matthew Dellavedova scored the first five points of the game as the JackJumpers took more than two minutes to make their first bucket. United fans had sore feet as it has become a tradition for them to remain standing until the opposing team scores.
Dynamic Tassie forward Jack McVeigh went all the way off the dribble on one of the league’s best defenders in Jack White, pulled up and splashed a three in his face, before drawing a foul on a nifty turn around jumper for eight points in a heartbeat. White was swiftly removed by United coach Dean Vickerman as Tassie took a 12-11 lead.
Mason Peatling checked in for White and instantly became a plus when he drained a wide open three and Shea Ili hit a pair from deep as United took a five-point advantage into the first break.
In the second, the JackJumpers rolled out a line-up with a pair of 201cm ‘bigs’ in MiKyle McIntosh and Jarrod Bairstow. Jo Lual-Acuil Jr — with a 10cm height advantage — took that as his cue, scoring six straight points for his team, including an incredible spin move and two-handed jam as Bairstow tumbled to the hardwood.
Things got a little heated between Lual-Acuil Jr and McIntosh after the United tower’s third bucket in a row, the pair jawing at each other on the way to their team huddles as JackJumpers’ coach Scott Roth called time.
As United threatened to run away with it, a McVeigh trey made him the first man in double figures and brought the lead back to six as the Jackies stuck to the task, keeping the margin at five.
The problem with trying to make it ugly against United is they relish the fight. Packed with hard-nosed defenders, the tougher it gets, the more they love it.
And so it was through a heightened defensive effort — they held the JackJumpers to just two of 16 shots in the third — and more offensive supremacy from Lual-Acuil Jr and Caleb Agada, they entered the last with a matchwinning 19-point break.
Red-hot Agada’s only blemish was placing the ball daintily on the ground after one of a number of thunderous jams. It fell back into his hands and he was slapped with a technical for not giving it back to the Jackies.
It wasn’t the procession it could have been in the last, but United still left comfortably with an 11-point victory and are now one game away from another grand final berth.
BIG A’S BLOCK AND DUNK
A giant kid, Ariel Hukporti has become one of the NBL’s hardest workers. The Next Star spends hours after practice with NBA whisperer Darryle McDonald and has become a regular sight after games remaining on the floor in his uniform to get shots up — something the fans who hang around have come to enjoy. He produced one of the highlights of the season when he first used his superior size to send away a Josh Adams layup try and then ran the floor like a raging bull, hammering down a two-handed jam to complete the effort. He’s said no to the NBA this season, instead, extending his time at United. If he continues his rapid development, he’ll be a top-10 lottery pick in 2023.
JACKJUMPER JACK IGNITES AWAY FANS
The JackJumpers have made a habit of tearing up the script this season and they threatened to do so through McVeigh in the first half. McVeigh has been lauded for embodying the JackJumpers spirit, and rightly so, but he has become so much more. He is developing into a star before our very eyes and, when he sat for the first time with eight first-quarter points, he was treated to a standing ovation from the parochial contingent of JackJumpers’ fans. It was an odd phenomenon, hearing a noise in John Cain Arena for the opposition team that was almost as loud as the support for United. Loud boos rang out when United was at the free throw line and there was joy when they missed.
BIG JO’S TON
Playing in his 100th NBL game, Lual-Acuil Jr’s impact on both ends of the floor was profound. JLA turned 28 this week and had his way with the smaller JackJumpers on both ends of the floor with 15 points and a ridiculous six blocked shots. Snubbed for the MVP and Most Improved Player in the NBL awards, JLA will tell you he doesn’t care, but that was the performance of a man with a chip on his shoulder.
MELBOURNE UNITED 74-63 TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS
Agada: 16 points, 7 rebounds
Lual-Acuil Jr: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks
Dellavedova: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Adams: 16 points
McVeigh: 15 points
Crowd: 5268 @ John Cain Arena
Spoil the fairytale: Champs plot surprise packet’s demise
Everyone’s talking about the fairytale Tasmania JackJumpers making the NBL finals in their first year in the competition.
Even Launceston-born Chris Goulding admits he has found himself admiring the expansion club throughout the season.
But that all changes Thursday night when heavy favourites Melbourne United host the upstart Jackies in game one of their NBL semi final series.
“It’s time to change the mindset,” United’s greatest player said as the ruthless reigning champs prepare to spoil the good-news story.
“We know the style of basketball the JackJumpers play — it’s admirable, they play hard, but it’s time for us to stop praising them about how good they are and how well they play and show that we can do it ourselves.
“I’ve watched their games and hoped they did well throughout the course of the season but I have to stop that now.
“They might have had a great year — but we want to have a better one.”
It’s a different United team to the one that rolled to last year’s NBL title and there is no less pressure but those who are yet to taste the ultimate success will have plenty of experience to lean on.
“We know what we want to achieve and there are guys who were here last year who know how special it is and also how hard it is,” Goulding said.
“This isn’t a cakewalk, whoever you play. We saw that last year with the battle that the (South East Melbourne) Phoenix put up against us (United escaped a nailbiting game three in the semi finals).
“We expect the same thing against the JackJumpers and that’s why we’re so adamant that we have to come locked in and ready to roll.”
Depleted United put in a stinker Saturday against Tasmania in the last game of their regular season Saturday. The result paved the way for the Jackies’ miraculous finals berth and Goulding is acutely aware his side has not played its best against the men from down south this season.
NBL22’s top team has surrendered two of its three meetings with the JackJumpers, including one on the normally impenetrable John Cain Arena home floor.
“We just want to hang our hats on who we are when we are really good and that’s a really good defensive basketball team who cleans up the glass and gets out and runs,” Goulding said.
“We didn’t see enough of that defence (on Saturday) and, to be honest, we haven’t seen enough of it in the three games we’ve played against them this year.”
The reigning champions will welcome back a trio of key men in Matthew Dellavedova (dental work) Jack White (back) and David Barlow (concussion) after each missed Saturday’s clash.
“We missed Jack the last two times we’ve played the JackJumpers (both losses),” Goulding said.
“Without Delly we saw with our organisation; we were a little bit disjointed at times — he’s a massive part of that.
“The experience and the shotmaking that Barlow brings is something you can’t understate so we’ve got a lot of big pieces coming back in.
“We talk and joke about this is where the fun starts, but it really does, it’s a great time of the season.”