United secure last-gasp NBL finals spot
A NEW season starts now for Melbourne United and anything is possible.
Nobody outside of United's inner sanctum would or could have seriously pencilled in finals last week let alone last month.
The NBL, too, has got its wish with a Sydney-Melbourne best-of-three semi-final series for the second year in a row after Sunday's 109-90 win over South East Melbourne Phoenix.
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Even the individual match-ups are heaven sent.
Andrew Bogut versus Shawn Long, Jae-Sean Tate versus Stanton Kidd and the piece de resistance, the prospect of Casper Ware and Chris Goulding trading buckets.
United knew it was good enough to play finals, but reaching the post season has been one heck of a rollercoaster ride.
A slow start, then six straight wins, before a post-Christmas funk and now, three straight wins over Illawarra Hawks, Cairns Taipans and South East Melbourne Phoenix to secure fourth spot.
United needed a hero down the stretch and got one in Goulding.
The captain has been irresistible the past three outings, scoring 20, 23 and 28 points on Sunday night including six crisp threes.
Goulding sparked United, draining 10 of the team's first 13 points last night and went into the first change of ends with 15 in the book.
With Phoenix, who trailed by 18 points in the first quarter, threatening to spoil the party deep in the third, down by three only, Goulding went whack.
A long three sucked the life out of any comeback, then the captain all but iced the contest with a length-of-the-floor run and lay-up after the second Phoenix turnover inside 20 seconds.
Sydney has not missed a beat this season, sitting on top of the NBL standings from go to whoa but the thing about finals is anything is possible and what happened the past 20 rounds means nothing.
United coach Dean Vickerman was thrilled to clinch the fourth seeds.
"We got to that point with seven games to go and we said all right it's a best-of-seven series and we got to win it," Vickerman said.
"Somehow we found a way to win four out of the seven and obviously that was good enough to get us in the finals.
"I'm Brisbane and New Zealand are going to be pretty disappointed … but we had to win those last three and we did it and now we go ahead and face Sydney."
As good as Goulding was, seemingly ageless veteran and four-time championship winner David Barlow, the NBL's Benjamin Button, was brilliant.
The knockdown shooter was perfect (6-6) from the field in front of a crowd of 9501 at Melbourne Arena, including five nothing but net threes.
Goulding praised his team's resilience to lock in and overcome after a "shaky" mid-season patch.
"We're building to this point the last seven games," Goulding said.
"It's looked a little shaky at times, it's looked really good at times, we enjoyed it (post-match celebration) a little bit."
GAME 1 Saturday, February 29 at 7.30pm at Qudos Bank Arena
GAME 2 Monday, March 2 at 7.3opm at Melbourne Arena
GAME 3 Thursday, March at 7.30pm at Qudos Bank Arena (if required)