Melbourne take OKC to the brink in historic encounter
Against all expectations, Melbourne United took NBA championship contender Oklahoma City Thunder to the brink in an NBA preseason game in OKC on Monday morning.
In the process they put the NBL on the world basketball map.
The Thunder expected little more than a physical hitout from Melbourne but were instead left with many of their starting five playing through to the close as United looked to take the win with 15 seconds to play.
Trailing by one point, Josh Boone went to the basket and had his shot blocked by high-flying forward Josh Huestis with five seconds, it looked close to a goal tend but was ruled as a block.
Then from the inbound pass, Casey Prather had his driving shot blocked by the same player as the Thunder won 86-85.
The Thunder players mobbed Huestis like his blocks had won a regular season game, and that was also a nod to Melbourne’s exceptional performance at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
NBL managing director Larry Kestelman told media the NBL has now arrived, United’s performance not only illustrated that arrival but showed the league can hold its own against anyone in the world.
Casper Ware was immense for Melbourne with nine of his 20 points in the final term, he gave Melbourne a chance with his shooting in the last term while Boone had 15 points and nine rebounds, Tai Wesley scored 13 points and Prather 11 points.
Paul George’s 22 points led the Thunder while Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points and Steven Adams 12 points.
Ware said he was excited about the result but wanted to take his side all the way to a win.
“It says a lot about the NBL,” Ware said from the locker room.
“I think they didn’t know about us much, now they will be saying “they have some good players over there” and that is the biggest thing that we wanted to do.
“We wanted to show this league is no joke and we have good teams over here too, just like Europe or somewhere else. That was the biggest thing for us.”
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said his side needed such a good test with just one preseason game to go.
“It was a great game for us,” Donovan said.
“They competed, they were physical, they were aggressive and I think that will help us take things from this game.
“It was great for us as there was a lot to learn from it.”
Ware’s dual with Westbrook early on and others in the second half was one of the highlights but the challenge for Melbourne will be to take the momentum from the game back into the NBL season.
“That finish was crazy,” Ware said.
“I really wanted to win, I was happy we played good but to win would have meant so much more other than just getting close.
“But to get close to a team with players like that left us feeling good and hopefully we can carry it on to the NBL.”