The Roar
The Roar


Melbourne, Adelaide tip-off salivating NBL grand final

The NBL Grand Finals series begins tonight (AAP Image/David Mariuz)
15th March, 2018

For the first time in almost a decade there is no Perth Wildcats nor New Zealand Breakers set to win the NBL championship and the excitement is palpable ahead of Game 1 of the grand final series on Friday night between Melbourne United and Adelaide 36ers.

The Wildcats and Breakers have dominated the league over the past eight years combining to win four championships each in that stretch and not giving anyone else a look in.

Adelaide and Melbourne have been on the receiving end of that along the way with the 36ers losing the 2014 grand final in three games to the ‘Cats. Melbourne was dispatched in two games of the semi-finals by the Breakers in 2016 having claimed the regular season championship.

Melbourne and the 36ers have been the two standout teams this NBL season highlighted by ending the regular season first and second. It was only fitting they had to beat the two powerhouses to reach the grand final.

Melbourne disposed of New Zealand in two games and will have had an 11-day break in between that Game 2 and the grand final opener this Friday night at Hisense Arena. It’s the longest such break in the 40-season history of the NBL.

Adelaide, meanwhile, reignited the oldest rivalry in the league against Perth and after hammering the Wildcats by 35 points at home, came from 18 points down at Perth Arena to win last Friday night’s Game 2 by a solitary point to also advance to the grand final in two games.

That sets the stage for the two best teams of this season to lock horns in a best-of-five grand final series set to tip-off in Melbourne this Friday night and there are endless reasons to be excited to tune in.

Melbourne has gone from a team with a suspect underbelly in season’s past, to one that has transformed under new coach Dean Vickerman.


They now thrive on physicality and play a hardnosed, defensive-minded style where they love bashing bodies inside while also having the dazzling brilliance of Casper Ware and Chris Goulding on the outside.

While Melbourne had never won a single playoff game in franchise history since the changeover over from the Melbourne Tigers, they do have three players with championship experience.

David Barlow, Casey Prather and Tai Wesley have combined for six NBL titles while nobody on the 36ers team has had that experience, although coach Joey Wright did guide the Brisbane Bullets to the promised land in 2007.

Casey Prather tall

(AAP Image/Hamish Blair)

Vickerman is no stranger to championships himself with the first-year Melbourne coach having been an assistant coach to four titles between the Tigers and Breakers, and coaching New Zealand in its own right to the 2015 championship.

That’s why he has a quiet calm about him heading into Game 1 but he’s looking forward to experiencing the Hisense Arena atmosphere come game time.

“Our preparation has been good. Every day we have just worked on a few different things and special situations so I think we are well prepared for that,” Vickerman said.


“We are in a good mind space. We know what we need to get done and it’s now just about doing it and performing it, and being the confident team that we have been over the second half of the year.

“I have felt that feeling within our group and once we walk into the stadium for the game and hear those fans that really want to see a championship come back to Melbourne, that’s when I’ll feel that atmosphere and that’s what I love about our home games.

“Our fans are engaged, they are jumping up on the floor, they are into it and I just want to feel that excitement in a Grand Final again.”

Wright is no stranger to NBL grand finals even if he’s entering with no player having won a championship in the league previously.

But his imports Josh Childress, Shannon Shorter and Ramone Moore have experience all over the world while the likes of Daniel Johnson (262 games), Mitch Creek (192) and Brendan Teys (178) have certainly been around enough to know this is an opportunity they have to fully grasp.

Wright is entering his third grand final as a coach having won with Brisbane in 2007 and lost with Adelaide to Perth in 2014.

He doesn’t feel too different than a normal game yet but can’t fault the Sixers’ preparation.


“I pretty much feel the same right now. I’m sure at some point in time I’ll get a little more excited about where we’re at, but right now it does just feel like any other road trip for us. I’ve pretty much told the guys they have to win this game no matter what, so it’s not much different,” Wright said.

“We are prepared. Melbourne is a different ball club than when we played them last and we’re a different ball club so the first three or four or five minutes will be about feeling each other out and scrapping it out for us both. But we are definitely ready. Our guys have trained well.”

A big factor in Melbourne’s success this season has been the presence of big man Josh Boone inside.

Averaging 13.0 points and 9.4 rebounds a game through the season he was a powerful force, then went to another level with 33 points and 15 rebounds in Game 2 against the Breakers.

Bringing with him 268 games of NBA experience, he knows what it takes to perform on the big stage. But he too is pumped up for the chance to win a championship.

“It means a lot and any championship you have the chance to win is huge. They don’t come up too often these opportunities and I’m grateful that I’m here right now and for the opportunity. I know that we’re going to go out there and get it done,” Boone said.

“If anything (the break) it’s been a good thing for us to get a little bit of rest in and to get some preparation time for this really good Adelaide team. We don’t need no extra motivation for this game, this a game we’re going to be up for no matter and it’s a series that we will be up for.”


Depth is the great strength of the 36ers as they went through the season with Johnson (16.3 points), Creek (14.5), Shorter (13.3), Nathan Sobey (12.9), Childress (11.5) and Moore (11.4) all averaging in double-figures scoring with Anthony Drmic and Majok Deng up over seven points a game too.

It’s that depth, that tremendous self-belief they have and the pain much of the group has been through with the 2014 grand final loss and then last year’s semi-final defeat at home to Illawarra that could just be that extra drive to get them over the hump this time around.

Nathan Sobey

(AAP Image/Kelly Barnes)

Creek was there for both experiences and certainly doesn’t want to feel that pain again.

And while the Sixers do love to get out and run, and take the ball hard to the rim, he feels that their ability to adapt and win in different ways will hold them in good stead too and tough to prepare for.

“They haven’t seen us at full strength so we’ll see what happens. We think if we can win one game in Melbourne, especially if we steal that first one, we come home with a lot of momentum,” Creek said.

“The pressure really isn’t on us, it will be spread fairly evenly, but we understand that they will be thinking about beating us four times this season and knowing we weren’t at our best or full strength so we’ll see what happens.


“They’ll be preparing for the last time we played and they’ll watch these two games against Perth and they won’t be able to scout anything because we played two completely different games.

“I just think it’s an opportunity for us to really relish and we’ll accept it with open arms, and go out there and see what we can do.”

NBL Grand Final Fixtures (AEDT)
Melbourne United vs Adelaide 36ers

Game 1 – Friday March 16 – Hisense Arena 7:30pm
Game 2 – Sunday March 18 – Titanium Security Arena 3:00pm
Game 3 – Friday March 23 – Hisense Arena 7:30pm
Game 4 (if required) – Sunday March 25 – Titanium Security Arena
Game 5 (if required) – Saturday March 31 – Hisense Arena