Getting a chance for one more game at the helm in Melbourne would only be fitting for Andrew Gaze and he is confident the Sydney Kings can bounce back on Sunday at home to force a semi-final Game 3 against United.
Gaze is Melbourne basketball royalty for everything he did while the NBL’s greatest ever player with the Tigers. He is Melbourne through and through, but right now his heart remains in Sydney and he hopes that remains beyond Sunday.
Gaze’s three-year stint coaching the Kings will come to an end whenever the season ends for his team and he remains not only desperate, but confident it will extend beyond Sunday.
Melbourne had little trouble taking care of the Kings in Game 1 at Melbourne Arena on Thursday, controlling the contest the entire way on the way to the 95-73 victory.
That means the Kings have to win on Sunday at Qudos Bank Arena to force a decider back in Melbourne on Tuesday as both teams fight for the right to play the Perth Wildcats in the grand final.
The Wildcats wrapped up their semi-final series in two games against the Brisbane Bullets with an 84-79 victory at Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Saturday.
Now the Wildcats await their opponent for Game 1 of the grand final on Friday night in Perth and it would only be fitting for Gaze to get one more chance to coach his Kings into battle back in Melbourne.
It’s not going to be easy for them to turn it around and win on Sunday given the way Melbourne has steadily built momentum throughout their season as their championship defence has gathered steam.
And United looked tremendous on Thursday and it was all set up by the efforts of Casper Ware (22 points, seven assists), DJ Kennedy (20 points, six rebounds), Chris Goulding (17 points, four boards) and Mitch McCarron (15 points, five rebounds, four steals).
Josh Boone was terrific inside too with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists opposed to Andrew Bogut with Alex Pledger backing him up solidly with five points and four rebounds.
If those players are able to produce as they did for Melbourne again on Sunday, then there’s every chance they’ll win straight through to the grand final against Perth and begin preparing for Friday night.
But this is a Kings team experienced and talented enough to turn things around. You don’t have Bogut, Kevin Lisch, Jerome Randle, Brad Newley and Daniel Kickert on a team and not be able to bounce back strongly from a disappointing performance.
Gaze deserves the opportunity to get his team back to Melbourne for Game 3 as well where his coaching tenure could either end in his hometown or he could lead the Kings to a return to the grand final against the team that took over the Tigers history he had such a hand in building.
Gaze has seen it all throughout his lifetime in basketball so there’s no reason he can’t see the Kings bouncing back to win on Sunday in front of their home fans.
“I can reel off many, many, many examples that either I’ve been involved in as a player or I’ve seen as a spectator or been involved with as a coach where in these types of series, it’s a significant setback to lose in the way we’ve done,” Gaze said.
“But provided you keep it in perspective and look at all of your body of work, you say this is a bad one and cop it on the chin. It’s about how you respond and these are beautiful opportunities to test yourselves, test your group and test your character. I personally love it.
“Now I know the fans would think that’s nice statements and whatever, but this is a beautiful opportunity that we have. It becomes more meaningful now to say that if we turn this around we’ve done something extraordinarily significant.
“I look at it as opportunity mixed in with the disappointment. The disappointment is real and how we deal with that will go a long way to saying what sort of performance we put out there on Sunday.”
As confident as Gaze is that his team can turn it around, he knows they have to do plenty of things at both ends of the floor virtually the complete opposite from Thursday night.
“Strategically we didn’t see anything different from them that we hadn’t seen before, but our execution on the defensive end and the level of intensity we needed to play at wasn’t there. I was happy to wear some of the responsibility but a lot of our defensive rules broke down,” Gaze said.
“We didn’t execute when we were supposed to switch, we didn’t influence the ball in certain spots when were supposed and there were certain things we just didn’t do well. Too many times we got pushed out of our offence and just settled for a perimeter shot, we didn’t get downhill enough.
“When we beat them a couple of weeks ago we got to the rim. Getting to the rim, forcing the defence to collapse and shooting the ball well from the perimeter is what we did when we beat them, but that didn’t happen.
“Then defensively our goal was to keep them to seven three-pointers or less, they had six in the first five minutes and we were behind the eight-ball very early on. You have to take something away and we did a good job of that throughout the course of the season, but we didn’t in this game and we have to on Sunday.”
Things couldn’t go too much better for Melbourne in Game 1 so they deservedly head to Sydney full of confidence of being able to sweep the series to earn a chance to go back-to-back.
Coach Dean Vickerman knows all too well that they can’t take anything for granted though.
“Anytime you’re in a win or go home situation, everyone’s going to raise the level and from what I understand they will have an amazing crowd there for that first playoff game,” Vickerman said.
“We expect a totally different level of play from all of their guys. We did a great job of keeping our bodies in front of guys on penetration but if we drop of at all the level on those they are going to go by us.
“We know what Kickert and some of those guys are capable of coming off the bench. We did our job and what we were supposed to do in the first game and now they have return of serve on Sunday. We know it’s going to be a battle.”
NBL semi-final fixtures (AEDT)
Perth Wildcats (1) v Brisbane Bullets (4)
Perth Wildcats 89 defeated Brisbane Bullets 59 – RAC Arena
Brisbane Bullets 79 lost to Perth Wildcats 84 – Brisbane Entertainment Centre
Melbourne United (2) v Sydney Kings (3)
Melbourne United 95 defeated Sydney Kings 73 – Melbourne Arena
Sunday March 3 – Qudos Bank Arena 2.20pm
Game 3 (if required)
Tuesday March 5 – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm