WELL, that seemed like it would never end.
When we thought the game was won, an incredible shot would give us more free basketball, making for what will likely end up as an NBL classic.
It took four overtimes, but the defending champions managed to start their season with a bang; Melbourne United defeating the Illawarra Hawks 123-122 in nearly three hours of action.
Casper Ware played just under 56 minutes, but came up with the game-winning rotation and verticality to give United the stop that won them the game. he had 15 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, while Josh Boone led the way for United with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
“It felt like we won the game two or three times,” United head coach, Dean Vickerman, said postgame. ”But they were good enough to make great shots, and Blanchfield makes big shots, and that thing just kept ticking over.”
Back-to-back three-pointers from Todd Blanchfield and Chris Goulding saw the game tied at 88-88 at the end of regulation, with the ensuing overtime period one that most didn’t realise would be the trend of the evening.
Goulding, who would finish with 23 points, lit up the first overtime with a barrage of three-pointers, but a Blanchfield three, followed by a Brian Conklin short jumper at the buzzer, sent the game to a second period of free basketball.
After another back-and-forth overtime period, it was Blanchfield, again, who came up in the clutch, hitting a deep, off-balance three-pointer to force a third overtime. The deeper we went into the game, the more the time on the court was affecting players. Josh Boone was suffering from cramps throughout the overtime periods, Cedric Jackson and Goulding fouled out, while D.J. Kennedy went to the sidelines after landing awkwardly.
The third period saw much of the same, and, with United up 116-114, Ware had a chance to seal the game with a dagger three-pointer. Instead, a miss led to a leaking Blanchfield, who found Jordair Jett for the tough layup, ultimately sending the game to a fourth overtime.
With each team playing much of their respective benches, David Andersen looked like his veteran savvy would get the Hawks over the line, but back-to-back buckets from Ware and Mitch McCarron gave United the 123-122 lead; another dramatic finish seemingly in the works.
A pair of Peter Hooley misses from the free throw line gave the Hawks a chance to hit the go-ahead basket, but Ware’s impressive defensive play got United the stop they needed, and the chance to open their title defensive with a well-earned, exhausting victory.
Kennedy was making his regular season debut for United, and impressed with 21 points, nine rebounds, and some key defensive possessions. McCarron came off the bench for 13 points for the reigning champions, but played just 26 minutes; an argument can be made that he should’ve been on the floor for longer periods, down the stretch.
“Way up there. Way up there,” Vickerman said when asked where the game ranked among the craziest he’s been a part of.
“You feel like you had a couple of times, but that home team, they just didn’t give in tonight; they always thought they had a chance to win. Put it right up there with some of the craziest games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Blanchfield led the Hawks, and the game, with 26 points — which included some clutch shots — while AJ Ogilvy finished with 15 points and 21 rebounds.
After the game, Rob Beveridge was proud of his team, urging critics who wrote his Hawks out to reconsider.
“The thing that I got out of it was that, we’ve been written off — we always are — tipped to come eighth; Melbourne are the benchmark, they’re the standard, they’re the national champions,” the Hawks’ head coach said.
“We play them first game, and I think we made a statement tonight that, not matter what, we’re gonna fight right to the very end, and that’s what we did.”
The four overtimes was the most in NBL history since a 127-126 Brisbane Bullets win over the Perth Wildcats in 1994, according to NBLfacts.
Olgun Uluc covers basketball for Fox Sports Australia. Twitter: @OlgunUluc