Melbourne claim GF series
Melbourne United are NBL champions for NBL21, defeating the Perth Wildcats 81-76 in game three of their Grand Final series at John Cain Arena on Friday night.
Having claimed the first two matches of the series on the road Dean Vickerman's side completed a clean sweep of a wounded Wildcats side, who were gallant right to the very end, almost able to overcome a 16 point deficit in the final term.
But the home side steadied during a tense final quarter thanks to Grand Final MVP Jock Landale with Japanese international Yudai Baba kicking off the celebrations with a dunk in the final three seconds to seal the victory.
COVID restrictions saw United complete an 11-match road stint before returning home to host their first grand final clash but a run of seven wins in the past eight games handed them the opportunity to win the trophy in front of a reduced-capacity crowd of 5,000 fans.
The home side surged ahead 25-9 but Perth shut down Melbourne's attack and won the rebounding battle to grind their way to the lead in the third quarter.
But the Wildcats had no answer for Landale in the final term as United ended their shot at a third consecutive championship.
While disappointed with the result, Perth coach Trevor Gleeson expressed pride in his injury-battered squad for fighting all the way to the end without three-time league MVP Bryce Cotton.
The timing of Cotton's season-ending leg injury left Gleeson scrambling to reorganise Perth's offence with a hip problem for starting point guard Mitch Norton making the task even harder.
"Bryce goes down so we have four or five games to get organised and do something else at the back end of the season and then just the injuries compounded," Gleeson said.
"We just didn't have enough time to get our peak at the right time but we certainly played with our passion and our pride - those things are irreplaceable."
The title was Melbourne United's second in four seasons, either side of Perth's two championships in 2018/19 and 2019/20, the dream of three consecutive titles proving beyond their reach.
It ends a remarkable season of NBL, with the season commencing in January rather than October due to the coronavirus pandemic and running through until June.
The 2021-22 season is set to commence in the usual start time of October, meaning a quick turnaround for all franchises as well as new franchise Tasmania JackJumpers, who will feature in their first season in the competition.
IMAGE: The West Australian.