IT took four overtime periods but a leg-weary Melbourne United have outlasted the Illawarra Hawks in a remarkable NBL season-opener to claim a nailbiting 123-122 win on Friday night in Wollongong.
Melbourne led by nine with seven minutes remaining in regulation before the Hawks bravely fought back to force overtime.
But it took a further three extra periods before a result was finally determined.
It was just the second time in NBL history that a game required four overtimes to determine a result.
Illawarra’s Todd Blanchfield poured in a game-high 26 points in his first game with the club since leaving Sydney in the off-season, while American centre Josh Boone led Melbourne with 24.
AJ Ogilvy tallied 15 points and 21 rebounds for the Hawks and Chris Goulding added 23 for Melbourne.
Melbourne had only returned from the US on Monday after two pre-season games against NBA teams Philadelphia and Toronto.
Melbourne must now back up for a Sunday afternoon clash with the Wildcats in Perth.
The visitors started slowly, taking almost three minutes to score their first points and missing six of their opening seven shots.
They gradually worked their way into the game to lead 10-6 but the Hawks responded aggressively at both ends of the court and held a 23-19 quarter-time lead.
Melbourne tightened the defensive screws in the opening minutes of the second period and forged ahead 28-27 lead on Dave Barlow’s three-point bomb. But Illawarra got telling contributions from the bench (18 points) and were ahead 46-42 at half-time.
Tim Coenraad and Todd Blanchfield paced the home team with eight points apiece, while Josh Boone led Melbourne with 10.
Melbourne came out sluggish in the second half and copped a spray from coach Dean Vickerman in an early time-out.
They responded with renewed intensity, building an eight-point lead before the Hawks cut it to 69-66 at three-quarter time.
Melbourne stretched the margin to nine in the final period before Illawarra charged back into the contest down the stretch.
MELBOURNE UNITED 123 (J Boone 24 C Goulding 23 D Kennedy 21) ILLAWARRA HAWKS 122 (T Blanchfield 26 B Conklin 17 J Jett 16) in overtime at WIN Entertainment Centre
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