Melbourne United knocked out of finals in last seconds of season

South East Melbourne Phoenix will host the NBL’s new play-in elimination game on Thursday but hopes of a Throwdown game against Melbourne United were dashed by just two points in a heart-stopping final day of the regular season.

The Phoenix, who were left without a game in the final round, moved up to fifth spot after Perth Wildcats lost their Friday night game to Cairns Taipans.

Bryce Cotton of the Wildcats takes on Kouat Noi of the Kings on Sunday.Credit:Getty Images

But the Wildcats made up for that result with a clutch win on Sunday, beating top team Sydney Kings 96-84 to seal sixth place and return to the finals after missing out last year. The Phoenix and Wildcats will play an elimination game at John Cain Arena on Thursday at 6.30pm AEDT.

Melbourne United won 116-107 over Adelaide 36ers earlier on Sunday in front of a sell-out crowd of 10,175 at John Cain Arena. That result meant Perth had to win by 11 points or more to pass them on percentage.

The Wildcats’ winning margin was 12 points with Brody Manek nailing two late free throws to push the lead into the safe zone with just seconds to go. Sydney guard DJ Vasiljevic had a three-point shot with four seconds to play which would have knocked out the Wildcats, but it missed.

NBA draftee Luke Travers stood up for the Wildcats with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while Corey Webster had 26 points and Manek 21 points.

Luke Travers of the Wildcats blocks a shot by Kouat Noi.Credit:Getty Images

“We won by 12 [points] but it felt like a one-point win,” Wildcats star Bryce Cotton told ESPN after the game.

United had staged a memorable second half of the season to recover from a 5-10 start to finish with a 15-13 record.

United coach Dean Vickerman said the new top-six system was here to stay after the excitement of the final round.

He added teams all had to change their mindsets and play until the final buzzer rather than dribble out games to avoid late injuries like NBA teams do.

United’s Chris Goulding drives to the basket under pressure from Anthony Drmic of the 36ers on Sunday.Credit:Getty Images

“You don’t want to see anyone injured on those final plays, but I think if there is a general understanding that everyone will shoot at the end of the game, that is just something we need to have a discussion about at our coaches’ meeting at the start of the year,” Vickerman said.

“I’m all for it. I’m sure this top-six will keep on happening, you want these games to matter and percentage to matter. I’m happy to have this conversation.”

The Kings finished on top of the ladder with a 19-9 record and will be joined by New Zealand Breakers in having direct entry to the best-of-three semi-finals.

Cairns Taipans will host Tasmania JackJumpers in the seeding qualifier game in Cairns on Thursday at 8.30pm AEDT, which will send the winning team into the semi-finals against the Breakers.

The Phoenix host the Wildcats, with the winner to face the loser of Cairns and Tasmania in an elimination play-in game on Sunday afternoon to decide who plays the Kings in the semi-finals.

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