Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman says his team needs to continue to show every player on the depleted Perth Wildcats roster respect if they want to win a third game of the NBL Grand Final series and claim the title.
United completed a 2-0 start to the best-of-five championship playoff series in Perth at RAC Arena on Sunday, with a nine-point win. That followed a thrilling three-point victory in Game 1 on Friday.
The remaining three games in the series are scheduled to be played in Melbourne’s John Cain Arena, on Friday, Sunday (27 June) and Wednesday (30 June).
Melbourne finally gets to go home, ending a successful 30-day road trip where they won eight out of 10 games, including the first two in the race for the trophy.
Perth coach Trevor Gleeson was just as proud of his injury-hit roster for being able to push United, but he admits it’s getting tougher to get a competitive team on the court.
He also likened the defensive efforts on forward Todd Blanchfield by Melbourne defenders on Sunday to strategies that are no longer tolerated in the AFL.
Gleeson questioned why grabbing and holding tactics weren’t called as fouls.
Blanchfield, who scored 27 points in Friday night’s thrilling three-point loss, was held to just three points in the first half in Game 2 and 13 for the game. He attracted only six fouls.
Gleeson copped a warning and a technical foul in a heated second quarter, clearly unhappy with the attention he was getting.
“There is a lot of grabbing going on. You might have seen me acting like a fool in the second quarter. But there was grabbing and holding of the cutters,” he said.
“It’s a free kick in AFL; the AFL has cleaned it up.
“Maybe we should get one of those guys to come out there and tell us.
“There is a lot for grabbing and holding and it’s easy to defend when you can do that.”
Regardless of whether the refereeing focus changes and Melbourne is forced to rethink its tactics used on keeping Blanchfield quiet in Game 3, it will still be difficult for Perth to get close to pushing this series beyond Friday night due to injuries to its roster.
Already missing MVP Bryce Cotton, Luke Travers (calf) and Clint Steindl (groin) failed to pass fitness tests for Sundays game and are fighting against the clock to be ready for Friday.
Mitch Norton is also clearly struggling with a hip injury and is playing in pain.
Gleeson said he wanted to rest him more than he did on Sunday and that it broke his heart watching his guard try to push through it.
There are no guarantees Norton or the other two will make Game 3, although having a full week to rehab will help.
Vickerman said that no matter who plays for Perth, his team needed to continue to show respect.
The undermanned Perth exploded in Game 2 and led by 10 points at the first break.
Kevin White led all scorers with nine points.
Corey Shervill was elevated to the starting five and had six points and had drawn four fouls by halftime.
Vickerman said ensuring his players maintain that respect and trying to get a better start will be the focus ahead of Friday’s game.
“The start, we talked about when a team drops a game, the response they are going to come out with in the first quarter and they did,” Vickerman said.
“White, Norton, making heavy threes. They made five for the (first) quarter, but we held them to six for the game.
“We need to show every one of their players respect.
“I’m proud of the group to stick it out, stay together and deal with so many teams and schedules – to get eight out of 10 wins and win two playoff games on the road.
“We want to reward fans. We’re not sure how many will be in the building, but we want to reward them.”