Melbourne United have demonstrated why they're title favourites with a crushing 96-78 victory over South East Melbourne Phoenix in the opening match of their NBL semi-final series.
With Melbourne's COVID restrictions forcing the all-Victorian playoff series to be scheduled at Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena, United made themselves at home by dominating at both ends of the floor to overwhelm their cross-town rivals.
United asserted their authority in the second quarter as they outscored the Phoenix 32-18 on their way to a 20-point halftime lead, holding the league's highest-scoring team to 38 points in the process.
South East Melbourne tried to rally in the third period but Melbourne put the game out of reach with a run of 16 unanswered points to build an insurmountable 85-54 advantage.
After missing out on a nomination for the league's MVP award, United big man Jock Landale responded with 26 points, including four three-pointers, while Sixth Man of the Year candidate Scotty Hopson made nine of his 11 shots to finish with 22.
Landale scored from all areas to spearhead a United offence that surged ahead by as many as 33 points in the third quarter.
"We value him so much for how many things he can do. I thought his decision making when they doubled him ... we had answers for that one tonight," coach Dean Vickerman said about Landale's impact.
"Then he picks and pops and shoots threes, he sees single coverage and he goes to work so I just thought the high basketball IQ reads that he made today at the offensive end were great."
South East Melbourne made a promising start but appeared to lose momentum when star forward Mitch Creek went to the bench with two early fouls, United capitalising to build a 26-20 lead after one quarter.
Melbourne's defensive work continued to trouble the Phoenix in the second term as the minor premiers forced 10 turnovers in the first half, including seven steals, while their perimeter shooters combined for seven triples in the quarter to head into halftime ahead 58-38.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell felt his team's high turnover count and United's offensive rebounding were the main contributors to their large halftime deficit.
"Possession is king in the playoffs and they were able to get second and third touches and then they grinded us down a little bit," Mitchell said.
The Phoenix got the better of a lacklustre final quarter but it was a playoff debut to forget for the second-year franchise with a huge turnaround required in Sunday's game two in order to avoid elimination.
Australian Associated Press