The real Casper Ware stood up and the real Melbourne United made some brief appearances as the reigning champions scored a much-needed win over Illawarra Hawks on Monday night.
Ware was back to his game-breaking best, shooting 11 points in a furious opening term and finishing with 26 for the game as Melbourne held off the Hawks to win 99-93 at Melbourne Arena.
It would have been easy for Melbourne to go back into their shell after a heart-breaking double-overtime loss to Perth Wildcats on Saturday in which captain Chris Goulding went down with a bruised knee.
But instead they hit the contest inspired by Wares start and a bevy of hot shooting from the likes of David Barlow (17 points), Mitch McCarron (14 points) and DJ Kennedy (13 points) leading 29-16 at quarter time.
Melbournes lead reached 20 points in the second term as they showed how dynamic they can be grabbing rebounds and running out in transition.
But power forward Brian Conklin (24 points) and the Hawks regained form cutting the lead with a strong run to open the third term. Another stirring turn in the final term saw them close to within three points with a few minutes to play.
Then, with the score at 91-88, Ware put his foot down once again, nailing a pull-up jump shot and drawing a charge on Jordair Jett while Kennedy, Josh Boone and McCarron all made key plays to finish the job.
Ware said he knew he had to step up for his side, especially with Goulding sidelined and Boone battling through an ankle injury.
“We just had to step up with Chris out and we did it collectively too, it wasnt just me as Barlow had a big start, Pledger had a good start,” Ware said.
“Its one of those things that we are used to doing, stepping up when somebody goes out.”
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman called Ware's big night "unbelievable".
"He is certainly a guy who senses moments when they really need him and thats what you want from your imports," Vickerman said.
Hawks coach Rob Beveridge rued his clubs horror start and their inability to rebound as Melbourne beat them 42-29 on the rebound count.
“Our first half was disgusting,” Beveridge said.
“Our effort. We got beat everywhere – rebounding, loose balls, getting beat off the dribble.
“Thats not us. But Im sick of starting slow like this then coming home with a wet sail as when you are playing very good teams you cant win those games.”
Melbourne United are still a long way from their best form but Vickerman likes the way the team learns and evolves.
“You look at every game we have played so far, it has been tight and we continue to learn a lot about ourselves and we know we have so many improvements to come,” Vickerman said.
“This group is really good in that when we arent good at something we accept it and then we get better.
“We turned the ball over too much, then we went to Perth and only had 10 turnovers, tonight we focused on the rebounding and we really got that done.
“They are a group who locks into the info that they are given but we cant let things regress – we have to make sure we continue to improve.”
Goulding remains in doubt for Melbournes trip to Cairns to face the Taipans on Saturday night although his knee is heeling quickly.
“This league is going to have injuries and every team will have their injuries,” Vickerman said.
“So any time you lose a key member and can still get the win will be critical.”
Melbourne United play the Taipans in Cairns on Saturday at 7.50pm AEDT.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.