An inspirational second half performance from Melo Trimble has guided Melbourne United to a thrilling 96-95 derby victory over South East Melbourne Phoenix.
Without injured import forward Casey Prather, United fought back from nine points down in the fourth quarter to complete their fifth consecutive win in front of a capacity crowd at Melbourne Arena on Saturday.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Trimble finished with a team-high 22 points, including the game-winning free-throw in the final seconds following a foul call against Phoenix guard Adam Gibson.
The Phoenix were poised to end United's winning streak when John Roberson's three-pointer handed them an 85-76 fourth-quarter lead but United launched a 12-2 run to get back in the contest.
Trimble then sank three free throws with 40 seconds remaining to give United a 95-93 lead then made one of two foul shots after Keith Benson tied the scores with 13 seconds left.
"My teammates told me to keep going and just be confident," Trimble said of his barnstorming finish after going 0-for-3 in the first half.
Reserve guard Shea Ili hit four three-pointers in his valuable 16-point haul while Chris Goulding and David Barlow each added 13.
The Phoenix received another outstanding performance from captain Mitch Creek (27 points) while Benson played his best game of the season to finish with 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
"They outplayed us in that last quarter and we've got to get better if we want to roll with the big dogs," coach Simon Mitchell said after the Phoenix fell to a 5-3 win-loss record.
The Phoenix set up their early lead by outworking United under the basket, Dane Pineau ripping down three of his five first-quarter rebounds at the offensive end.
Creek was also on target from deep, his second three-pointer putting the visitors up 22-10.
But United answered with a late run of their own, Goulding nailing a long triple as time expired to cut the Phoenix lead to 31-26.
The home side kept eating into the Phoenix's lead in the second stanza, Ili adding five quick points to help close the gap to two.
But after United centre Shawn Long went to the bench with three fouls, South East Melbourne regained their advantage as Creek completed a 19-point first half to put his team ahead 53-47 at the main break.
Kendall Stephens extended the Phoenix lead to nine early in the third term but Trimble came to life as he followed Barlow's triple with three straight baskets to tie the scores at 56-56.
United finally hit the front with Ili connecting twice from deep for a 66-62 lead but Benson produced key plays at both ends of the floor and Gibson sank a final-second three-pointer for the Phoenix to take a 72-68 into the final quarter.
Australian Associated Press