Melbourne United’s NBL title defence has started with a slip despite a defiant late fightback in their 79-74 defeat to the Sydney Kings at Qudos Bank Arena.
With captain and sharpshooter Chris Goulding out injured and just three members of their championship-winning team on court, United struggled offensively against a enthusiastic Sydney side.
A 15-6 run gave Sydney a 39-30 halftime lead and stand-in captain and former NBA guard Matthew Dellavedova kept Melbourne in the game, scoring six of their 10 points and hitting all but one of their four field goals in the second quarter.
Dellavedova scored nine points on three-from-10 field goal shooting and had five assists.
Sydney charged to a 55-34 advantage but United slashed the gap to 12 by three-quarter time.
Melbourne lifted their defensive effort and with Sydney looking less assertive in offence the deficit closed to three with 30 seconds remaining.
A block by Jo Lual-Acuil set up a potential game tying three-pointer from Shea Ili with eight seconds left.
The shot didn’t drop and Shaun Bruce iced the game for Sydney with two free throws.
With Goulding missing, Melbourne shot at just 36 per cent from the field with Acuil leading the way with 12 points and import Caleb Agada had 11 off the bench.
United got handy contributions from development players David Okwera and Zac Triplett.
“We had a lot of guys play their first game for the club … and had a really good impact,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.
“(We) went down 21 and we don’t quit and we fight and we give ourself a shot at it
“Those are positive things but we’ll probably spend a little bit more time on why we got 20 down and how we get better through that patch.”
The Kings under new coach Chase Buford spread their scoring load, with eight players notching points in the first quarter .
Former King Brad Newley, given a respectful reception by Sydney supporters, drained a couple of early three-pointers and Melbourne led 12-6 and by three points at quarter time.
Imports Jaylen Adams, RJ Hunter and Jarell Martin headed Sydney’s scorers with. 15, 12 and 12 respectively, as the Kings held on to win despite being outscored 22-15 in the last quarter.
Xavier Cooks, Matur Maker and Biwali Bayles were also good contributors.
“It wasn’t the prettiest offensive game by any stretch, but pleased with the way our guys came out and competed,” Buford said.
“The offence can still get better but I’m proud that our guys gutsed it out and found a way to get it done down the stretch.
“Full credit to them (Melbourne) but I think we were just sloppy with the ball a little bit in the fourth quarter.
“I think we just played to get to the final whistle more than we played to get great shots.”