Melbourne have kept their finals hopes alive, and put a considerable dent in Illawarra’s own ambitions, with a dour 78-72 win over the Hawks at Hisense Arena on Monday night.
Illawarra simply had no answer for classy United big-man Josh Boone inside with the former NBA centre finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds as the hosts decimated the Hawks in 46-24 in the paint.
Chris Goulding also came up big down the stretch with 18 points while Casper Ware (16) and Dave Andersen (10) were also in double digits in what was a slow-paced low-scoring affair.
The Hawks fought hard but their radar was well off, shooting just 38 per cent from the field, and just 34 per cent in the first half, in what was one their lowest scoring performances of the season.
Rotnei Clarke again led the Hawks with 19 points, 10 of which came in the opening quarter, but hit just two of his trademark triples from six attempts for the game.
Oscar Forman was the only other Hawk to warm to the scoring task with 12 points at 4/6 from long-range while AJ Ogilvy fell one point short of a fourth straight double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
The win sees Melbourne draw level with both Perth and Cairns with a 13-13 record for the season, and leapfrog both on percentage, ahead of clashes with New Zealand and the Wildcats in a dramatic final round to decide their ultimate fate.
The Hawks are still one win clear of their rivals in second spot but Saturday’s home clash with last-placed Brisbane is now a must-win with a loss likely to trigger a dramatic tumble out of the finals race at the final hurdle.
The visitors got off to an awful start with Todd Blanchfield dropping two triples and Goulding also hitting from the perimeter on a 12-1 run to start the game. Mitch Norrton managed one of two from the line to finally get the Hawks on the board after almost four minutes.
Clarke’s injection from the bench stopped the rot with 10 points, including two triples, to get the Hawks back within one point before Boone and Goulding got wide open looks to keep a five-point buffer at the first change.
Boone continued to make his presence felt early in the second with four of his eight points for the quarter with Norton hitting from the perimeter and from the foul-line to peg the lead back and allow the Hawks to level things up at 27 apiece on the back of Forman’s first three. Forman fired another from long-range and the Hawks briefly took their first lead of the match on triple from Harris before Boone’s buzzer-beater kept things tied up at the main break.
Blanchfield got things going with his third three-pointer to start the third term while Goulding and Andersen also got in on the act from the arc as the lead swelled back out to seven. Ogilvy added five to keep the Hawks in touch but it Boone who had the final say of the quarter as the hosts led by six at the final change.
Andersen and Cody Ellis traded threes early in the fourth before Goulding took control with six points as the hosts led by 10. Forman added two more threes to keep the Hawks in the clash before Ware iced the game from the foul-line.