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United down Perth in NBL finals rematch

Melbourne United are back on top of the NBL ladder after a thrilling 93-87 home victory over fellow championship contenders Perth.

In their first matchup since last season’s grand final series, the hosts staved off a spirited comeback in the final minutes, after leading by as many as 20 points earlier.

It didn’t begin easily for United (9-4) who were blown away in the opening quarter before giving the Wildcats (8-4) a taste of their own medicine in the second and third terms.

United faced a 23-13 deficit after 10 minutes but outscored their opponents 37-19 in the second quarter, the highest score against Perth in one quarter this season, taking a six-point lead into the break.

Their lead then ballooned out before the Wildcats’ championship pedigree and resilience helped them back into the game in the final 10 minutes.

Perth were aggressive and found their mojo in defence, slowly etching into the big deficit, but could only get within six as Matthew Dellavedova scored 11 of his 18 points in the final term to see United home.

Jo Lual-Acuil led Melbourne’s scoring with 22 points and 13 boards while Caleb Agada added 15 and Chris Goulding 16.

But it was the defensive effort by Shea Ili that shifted momentum in the first half, as the guard was everywhere fighting for loose balls, hitting threes and showing active hands in passing lanes.

“The three ball has dropped off for us for a little while, so it was really pleasing to see Shea make a couple of those shots,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.

“I thought (Perth star) Bryce (Cotton), we fouled him and did the things we didn’t want to do to him early on, and Shea just got into him, made his life really difficult.

“But we needed a win and we’ll take a win against Perth however we get it.”

Cotton was at his MVP-level best with 31 points on 50 per cent shooting, to go with six rebounds and four assists, but fellow star Vic Law struggled from the field shooting 5-18.

Mitch Norton chimed in with 21 points for Perth, while Jesse Wagstaff in his 400th NBL game could only muster three points in 19 minutes.

Offensive rebounds cost Scott Morrison’s side, outrebounded 51 to 43 as United’s size proved too much to handle.

“They really did a number on us on the glass,” said Morrison.

“Seemed like anytime we had a chance to kind of get back into it or needed a big stop and got a miss, they ended up getting a second chance.

“That was pretty rough on us and you’ve got to give them credit for not deviating from their game plan when they went down in the first quarter.”

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