Table-topping Melbourne United have fought off a spirited challenge from the Cairns Taipans to win 89-73 for their fourth straight NBL success.
United (12-4) were fresh off a 35-point thumping of New Zealand in their last outing and were dominant early on Sunday in Cairns as Chris Goulding caught fire for the visitors from the outset.
Goulding had never scored 20 or above at the Cairns Convention Centre, but he quickly banished that statistic to lead all scorers with 21 points on 5/9 from three point range.
Taking a 13-point buffer into the main break, United kept the hosts at an arm’s length throughout the opening half, before the Taipans rallied defensively and blitzed the reigning champions 22-13 in the third term.
When Cairns (4-9) tied the game at 54-54 late in the third it seemed momentum had shifted in their favour, but star Scott Machado was forced to sit out due to foul trouble before United took control again.
Shea Ili was imperative to their defensive stops when the fourth quarter began as the Taipans, who challenged United through three terms, ran out of gas to lose by 16 points.
Machado was limited to just six points in Sunday’s contest, stemming from the on ball defence of Ili and Matthew Dellavedova.
“When Scotty is making 80 per cent of the decisions for this team, good things happen for him,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.
“So our ability to have Shea and Delly just stopping him catching the balls, making other people have to advance it up the floor just takes away some of the great decision making that he makes for his team.
“They’re a lethal combination back court defenders those two, and every night someone’s gonna have a tough job trying to get past those two.”
For the Taipans, Keanu Pinder (14 points) was a bright spark off the bench, harassing the offensive glass and combining with Tahjere McCall for highlight alley-oops.
But coach Adam Forde said their opponents executed their game plan well and weathered every storm his side threw at them.
“They were relentless,” said Forde.
“They just kept running at every opportunity that we gave them.
“We sort of started off slow, they had a 7-0 run, we weathered that one, then they went on another little run.
“And we kept chipping back and forth and in the end, Melbourne got the final run which pretty much wiped us.”
United have a week before their next outing against Brisbane at home with the Taipans back at it against the surging Sydney Kings on Sunday.