Rise of Phoenix: NBL new kids stun United
SOUTH East Melbourne Phoenix has created history and stunned Melbourne United in the inaugural Throwdown.
The new kids on the NBL block, a team largely made up of hardened veterans mind you and Australian star Mitch Creek, drew first blood with a spirited 91-88 win at Melbourne Arena.
Captain Creek set the tone for the expansion team with 28 points, while import guard John Roberson banked 20 in his NBL debut.
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United mounted a charge in the last quarter but, as was the case for the entire match after quarter time, the black team could not get its noses in front despite an inspired effort from Chris Goulding and Shawn Long.
Goulding knotted the scores at 84-apiece with a 1min 12 to play but the Phoenix responded to run out victorious in front of a bumper 10,000-strong crowd at Melbourne Arena.
LONG AND STRONG
Forget Casper Ware to the Sydney Kings.
United has stolen the show in the recruit of the year department and we're only one game into the NBL season.
Stand up, "Mr Double Double", Shawn Long.
Long, who uses the cheeky moniker as a social media handle, last night answered United's call in the last quarter with a dominant display at both ends of the floor.
The ex-New Zealand Breakers big man bagged 12 points and three rebounds in the last term alone to get a depleted and clunky United within three points of victory.
At 208cm and 116kg, super athletic Long, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, is a nightmare to in the paint.
He works over opponents and then converts.
Often with free throws to come.
It might not have worked out last night for United on the scoreboard, but it will as the grand finalists work towards top gear.
SHOOT TO THRILL
Phoenix guard John Roberson is going to be a handful this season.
So too, Mitch Creek, that we knew, and lights out perimeter shooter Kendall Stephens. 'Wild' Kyle Adnam brings energy, while Dane Pineau cleans glass better than newspaper and Windex.
They might not be the best and most athletic unit in the league, but the Phoenix will keep rivals honest to a fault behind a smart shooting core and committed defence.
After losing Tai Wesley (hamstring) in the opening term the Phoenix needed a foil for Creek and Roberson answered the call in no uncertain terms.
The crafty Kansas City export, who spent the past eight years plying his trade through Europe, both converted and created with veteran precision.
Question: Who scored South East Melbourne Phoenix's inaugural NBL points?
Answer: Tai Wesley.
Trademark Wesley too, as the ex-United enforcer, now in green after a stint in New Zealand, backed his man into the paint, turned and converted a jump hook.
Unfortunately, Wesley's night ended inside five minutes of actions with a then game-high eight points and left hamstring issue.
PHOENIX COACH: 'WE PLAYED OUR ASSES OFF'
Inaugural South East Melbourne Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell gushed with pride about his team's grit and willingness to "fight to the death".
After losing Tai Wesley in the first term with a hamstring problem the Mitch Creek and John Roberson-powered Phoenix refused out grunted a depleted Melbourne United.
"It's probably not the prettiest game the NBL was looking for," Mitchell said.
"We weren't the most composed team down the stretch, but I thought we played our asses off.
"I thought we were tremendously gritty ... in this time these guys have been able to establish a real pride in their uniform."
United charged at the expansion team late but could not convert the run into a win.
"We're going to fight to the death," Mitchell said.
"Maybe we'll be a little bit cooler under pressure and maybe a little slicker at both ends of the floor."
Wesley will be assessed today after breaking down five minutes into the match.
But Mitchell remains optimistic Wesley, who was held out of training this week with tightness, could bounce bank quickly.
"He had a little bit of tightness," Mitchell said.
"We don't know what's wrong with him right now.
"He felt pain in an area."
Creek stole the show, and Mitchell is more than happy to see the ex-Adelaide 36ers turned Australian NBA prospect earned another shot at the world's best league.
"We want him to be in the NBA," Mitchell said after Creek's match-winning 28 points and 11 rebounds.
"Man I was devastated when he didn't make it.
"We want to send him into that (NBA) trajectory."