NBA News: NBL club Melbourne United faced injuries, jet lag, talent and one of the NBA’s most intimidating crowds, but they rallied to almost pull off a stunning victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder held on to defeat Melbourne 86-85 in a thriller in Oklahoma City in the latest NBL-NBA exhibition clash.
With five seconds left Melbourne big man Josh Boone looked like he had the game winner, but his shot close to the basket was blocked by Thunder reserve forward Josh Heustis.
Melbourne retained the ball and with one second to go Heustis was the unlikely saviour again for the All-Star laden Thunder when he blocked forward Casey Prather’s potential game-winning driving lay-up to leave the score at 86-85.
“To have the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the world and to know that our league can challenge those best teams in the world, it does a lot for our reputation in the league and it does a lot for our club’s reputation,” Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman said.
The Australians were not intimidated despite facing some of the NBA’s biggest stars, including guard Russell Westbrook, who just signed a $264 million contract extension, and new All-Star recruits Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.
Melbourne, led by Casper Ware’s 20 points, six rebounds and three assists and Boone’s 15 points and nine rebounds, remained close throughout the game and held leads for stretches.
The visitors pushed the Thunder so hard coach Billy Donovan was unable to rest his starters during the preseason game, with George (22 points) playing 39 minutes, Anthony (19 points) on the court for 31 minutes and New Zealand centre Steven Adams (12 points and 10 rebounds) logging 35 minutes.
Reigning NBA MVP Westbrook, coming back from injury, played a longer than expected 28 minutes for his nine points, seven assists and five rebounds.
“I was pretty impressed by the statistics that we held some people to,” Vickerman said.
“For us, because we’re a little bit smaller, we try to fight through everything, and I guess that maintained some pressure on them rather than when you switch, there’s a little more separation.”
Melbourne lost two key players before the game, with Chris Goulding ruled out with appendicitis and Peter Hooley injuring his ankle in practice.