Melbourne United crushes undermanned Hawks
FOR all the star-studded talent that fills Melbourne United's roster, this is still Chris Goulding's team.
With Melbourne's season teetering and Goulding's form mediocre at best, he decided it was time to stop the rot.
The Illawarra Hawks ruled the Hisense Arena highlights reel but Melbourne emerged with the victory they hope might define their season.
And it was a 91-73 win with Goulding's fingerprints all over it.
Back from Boomers duty to a Melbourne team desperate to find its defensive mojo, his first-minute block set the defensive standard.
Then a big corner three-pointer only seconds later was the first sign his shooting touch was finally awakening.
As Melbourne made its match-winning surge in the third term, the Rio Olympian's pair of long-range threes had the 6054-strong crowd on its feet.
By the time he had helped dulled 2014 NBL MVP Rotnei Clarke's brilliance with a close-checking second half, his game was the full four-quarter package.
Melbourne had been in danger of dropping as far as sixth on the ladder with a loss but instead kept in the top four hunt with a 6-5 record.
Every Melbourne starter finished with between 12-18 points with Goulding's 14 points a starting point rather than the finished product.
By game's end even Casper Ware (12 points) was back to his aggressive best, as Casey Prather (18 points), Josh Boone (15 points) and Tai Wesley (14 points) all contributed.
The Hawks had lost centre AJ Ogilvy to a groin injury pre-match, with star import Demetrius Conger already missing with suspension.
But after 15 days of soul-searching, Melbourne can build on that victory on Saturday night with an away contest against Cairns before a Monday home clash against Sydney.
Goulding revealed post-match that discussions with several mentors over the past fortnight had helped him keep his self-belief.
"I have been hearing it from my teammates, to be aggressive and be confident with my shot," he said.
"For the past couple of weeks I have had some conversations with a few people who were much better players than me who gave me confidence.
"That's not a fantastic game by me offensively but I tried to hang my hat on my game a little bit defensively which is what I should do going forward.
"It was good for us to draw a line in the sand but defensively."
After a week of boxing and MMA wrestling under coach Dean Vickerman, his next trick might be swimming with sharks or BASE jumping.
The change was that profound from the 32-point loss to Perth that saw Melbourne notch the lowest score in its short history.
Those Illawarra highlights were exceptional as American Clarke rode a hot hand in the first half as both teams butted heads.
His 17-point first half could have seen panic set in for United, as the Hawks pulled off a series of pretty backdoor cuts and alley-oops.
Yet it was Melbourne diving for loose balls and throwing a hand in to intercept Illawarra passes as winning ugly never felt so good.
A second quarter Tai Wesley-Josh Boone-Casey Prather interchange of passes for the easiest of lay-ups might have been the highlight.
Melbourne's stars were making each other better - with 24 assists from 33 made shots - instead of getting what was their's with individual glory.