Breakers spoil champion United’s party
NBL champion Melbourne United has the weapons and the game plan to go back-to-back.
The mindset, however, remains an unknown commodity.
Often the little lapses cause the most distress because they so easily could be avoided.
If allowed to fester these fade-outs will morph into season-defining habits.
It plagued United's pre-season, drifting in and out of games, and after 100 minutes of home-and-away action the reigning champion has work to do.
Fatigue and familiarity has played a part, no doubt, with United forced to play twice within 48 hours just five days after returning to Melbourne from the 10-day NBA pre-season showcase.
United bounded out of the blocks at Melbourne Arena, racing to a nine-point lead at quarter-time with Chris Goulding, Mitch McCarron and evergreen Dave Barlow splashing threes in front of a crowd of 8329.
But the air assault left the hosts vulnerable in the paint, where the New Zealand Breakers revelled, cleaning the glass at both ends of the floor, including a 9-0 offensive rebound run.
A lot has changed at the Breakers, with stalwarts including Mika Vukona (Brisbane) and Alex Pledger (Melbourne) finding new homes in the off-season. What hasn't changed is the club's hunger and will to compete.
United championship-winner turned Breakers recruit Tai Wesley led the recovery with 15 points in the second term alone for a game-high 21 at the long break.
It would be the difference, with the visitors barely headed after the onslaught to run away victorious 88-81.
Wesley's absence will be felt at United, make no mistake about that, this season, let alone when the Trans-Tasman heavyweights inevitable lock horns again late in the season.
Wesley's ability to score from in close and the perimeter was on show as the enforcer picked apart United's defensive structure.
Goulding kept United close with timely buckets, while Pledger pulled down seven rebounds including four offensive boards.
With Josh Boone and Casper Ware half a step behind after a gruelling fortnight United struggled to build any sort of momentum after the quarter-time huddle.
After drifting out of the contest in the middle stages utility McCarron caught fire late with a clutch triple, assist and eye-catching dunk, which will only become more prevalent as combinations gel.
Not making excuses here, but United, in the end, just didn't have the legs and energy to match the desperate Breakers for long enough to wrestle back the ascendancy.
Ware operated at just 15 per cent from the field (2-13), something the game-breaker will no doubt be keen to clean up before United returns to Melbourne Arena for Sunday's grand final replay against Adelaide 36ers.