The New Zealand Breakers have spoiled the homecoming party for NBL reigning champions Melbourne United after recording an 88-81 victory.
United unfurled their 2017-18 championship banner in front of a large crowd at Melbourne Arena on Sunday but it was the visitors who celebrated a comeback victory after falling behind by 12 points in the opening quarter.
Former United star Tai Wesley came back to haunt his former club, scoring 21 points in a dazzling first-half display on his way to a game-high 25 points.
Tom Abercrombie helped spark New Zealand’s second-quarter fightback, scoring 16 points to overtake Kirk Penney as club’s highest scorer, while accurate long-range shooting from guard Patrick Richard (15) helped clinch the win in the final quarter.
The result extended a run of six opening-round games where away teams have emerged victorious.
Coming off a thrilling quadruple-overtime victory over the Illawarra Hawks on Friday night, United faded after the first quarter, with key imports Casper Ware and Josh Boone combining for just eight points.
“It’s hard to back up (after) a four-overtime game,” Breakers coach Kevin Braswell said as he praised the efforts of the United players for their energetic first half.
“They got tired and one of the things that we wanted to do was to push the pace and I thought we did a pretty good job of that for three-quarters of the game.”
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman credited his opponents for making the most of their advantage.
“You come off a game like we did, they did everything to make it hard for us tonight,” Vickerman said.
“They talk about their depth and they used it tonight … that was a good defensive effort from them.”
United were also without new import DJ Kennedy after the 198cm forward went out of Friday’s win with an ankle injury.
Chris Goulding led United’s scoring with 22 points with assistance from David Barlow (15) and former Cairns Taipans guard Mitch McCarron (14).
United opened the match in style, shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc as they jumped out to a 12-point lead, with the Breakers failing to capitalise on numerous second-chance opportunities.
But the Breakers turned it around in the second quarter, outscoring the home side 28-14 as Wesley and Abercrombie led the charge for the visitors to lead by five at halftime.
Former Breakers centre Alex Pledger gave United a boost in the third quarter to help his new club regain the lead but the visitors rallied to maintain their five-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
New Zealand took over in the final term, with Richard opening with a triple before Abercrombie and former United centre Majok Majok combined to push the lead beyond United’s reach.