Their season was on the line.
After leading by 19 points early in the second quarter in Sydney on Saturday, the Kings had cut Melbourne’s lead to two points with just under 4 minutes to play in the third quarter. Dean Demopoulos had seen enough and called a time out.
When the players returned to the court, United’s Captain took the game over.
David Andersen, with just 5 points to his name at that stage, proceeded to score the next 7 points for United. He then added back-to-back triples early in the fourth to break the game open.
He was a perfect three for three from beyond the arc in the final period, putting the contest out of reach on his way to a game-high 21 points.
No surprise for someone who has made his living as a shot-maker.
— NBL (@NBL) February 4, 2017
“It was great,” Andersen said of how his performance in Sydney felt. “Obviously when you put in work, for it to pay off it’s a great feeling.”
It’s been a tough transition back to Australia and the NBL for the four-time Olympian.
After taking longer than he’d have liked to adjust to the style of the league, often limited by foul trouble early in the season, Andersen then suffered a medial ligament strain in his knee that would cost him seven weeks and nine games.
Speaking with NBL Media on Monday night following United’s second win of the round over Illawarra, Andersen explained that while this wasn’t the worst injury he’s suffered, it’s been challenging at his age.
“I’ve had more horrific injuries. I broke my ankle and that was a real tough one. It took me a good 9 months to get back to full strength.
“In saying that, this was an injury where I didn’t have to get any surgery, it was more the process. But it tests you mentally cos you’re in the middle of the season. Obviously you miss a big chunk, miss a lot of games and at my age, every injury gives you doubt.”
Any doubt was quickly erased at Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday night as Andersen did his damage in less than 17 minutes of action.
He then backed it up on Monday with more much needed scoring as well as some timely passing out of both the low and high posts as he added 4 assists to go with 4 rebounds and 10 points in just 22 minutes.
After each big basket, the sweet-shooting big man brought out his now trademark celebration, putting his guns back in their holsters.
— NBL (@NBL) February 4, 2017
“It’s just me having some fun,” Andersen laughed. “When I was doing it a little bit at the Olympics, that was probably the most fun. Andrej used to always put it on the video, the guys would have a chuckle and I’d just keep doing it.
“It’s the little things. When you get to my age you’ve got to find some things to keep yourself interested and motivated and those little things just make it a little bit more fun, the guys enjoy it and I just go along with it.”
Andersen (holsters included) was part of a line-up that showed how dangerous Melbourne can be as they held off multiple challenges thrown at them by the Hawks under the open air at Hisense Arena on Monday.
With Casper Ware, Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield, Andersen and Josh Boone, United has a versatile group that can score from anywhere on the floor. This was evident when Andersen delivered his own 5-0 run in the 3rd quarter to help keep Illawarra at bay.
— NBL (@NBL) February 6, 2017
He also continued to work well with Boone, utilising a high-low combination that gives United’s offence another dimension they’ve been lacking at times this season.
With Andersen able to play out of either the high or low-block and Boone roaming, cutting or diving hard to the rim off those mid-range picks, the two caused a lot of damage.
Double-team Andersen and he’ll find Boone cutting. Hedge too much on Boone’s roll and that leaves Andersen open for a kick-out. It’s tough to collapse on either player, as the other knows how to hurt you.
“I’ve always been a big that can play very well off another big that can score,” said Boone post-game. “I’ve learned to find the open spaces off of guys that are really good scorers like both Dave and Tai. Both of them are great scorers in the post and they draw a lot of attention, so it’s easy when the guy just kind of runs away from you on the double team.”
Andersen is enjoying playing with someone of Boone’s experience too.
“Josh is smart. He’s a veteran player too,” said Andersen of Boone.
“He’s been around leagues, he knows what to do and he knows how to have an influence on the game. He’s hitting the glass hard, he’s playing good defence, changing shots.
“And then he rolls down hard and I find him on the high-low, or on the double teams he’ll flash to the right spot and be there. He does a good job. Him and Majok are great at doing that and I think they complement each other really well.”
The scout on Melbourne is typically focused on Ware and Goulding. Keep Ware out of the lane and force him into help. Close out hard on Goulding and make him a passer.
However, when you have to also start worrying about how Melbourne’s bigs are working with each other, that makes it much harder to defend and Andersen’s return changes the way this team looks to score now.
“Andersen, he’s a world class player and with those two on the floor it was difficult for us,” admitted Hawks’ Coach Rob Beveridge post-game of the Andersen-Boone combination.
While Melbourne is looking like a serious contender with Andersen back in the mix, he’s still figuring out how to fit back in with a roster that has changed since his injury.
Despite playing with Ware in 2015/2016 with ASVEL Basket in France, the two had played just 3 games together before Andersen’s injury in December. Boone and Andersen shared the court for the first time in Perth in Round 17, playing just 1 minute and 7 seconds together.
“It’s one of those things,” Andersen said of trying to integrate with new teammates. “But I just try and fit in. I’m a bit of a glue guy. I can be adaptable to finding my role in the team and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
With just two games to go in the regular season and both games crucial to Melbourne’s post-season chances, there’s little time for Demopoulos to experiment with how best to utilise Andersen’s skill-set. He’s being thrown out there and relied upon to do what he’s done his whole career; make plays.
To some, the pressure of feeling a little under-prepared when every play is important and every game is a must-win, might get to you, but Andersen doesn’t see it that way.
“No,” he said of any pressure to make the Finals. “We probably felt more pressure at the start of the year because it was a new team; everyone was talking about it, hyping it up. To me, it’s just you go out and you play basketball. It’s what I’ve been doing forever. It doesn’t really faze me.
“I look at pressure as an opportunity. I look at it like that as a positive. For us now, we hold our own destiny. If we get these two wins, then we go onto playoffs.
“I’ve been telling the guys it’s seven more victories and we’ll be champs. The simplicity of it is that.”
Melbourne United have now won two straight and find themselves back in the top four as they enter the final round. The return of a pro like Andersen cannot be undersold and he’s going to continue to be a big part of what this team achieves, as was always the plan heading into this season.
He gives them an element they were missing. He’s their x-factor heading into the final round, chasing a Finals berth. More importantly, it’s now a group that once again, has a very strong belief they can win a championship.
“I think we’re pretty confident,” Andersen told NBL Media after their 78-72 win over Illawarra.
“The hardest thing is getting consistent work and consistencies in our game and I think we’re starting to prove that our defence can be really good. We put the clamps on Sydney, we held Illawarra to 72 tonight.
“We’ve got to go into New Zealand with the same mentality, that defence is our backbone along with rebounding, and then we’ve got a lot of points in our hands so that shouldn’t be a question. We’ve got a great core of guys. Everyone likes to play for each other. And we just have to roll the balls out and play some basketball.
“We’ve got all the tools we need, it’s just a matter of us enjoying it, playing as hard as we can and giving it a chance. Hopefully luck will shine on us.”
Written for NBL.com.au by Tom Hersz