A stellar performance from import Casper Ware has inspired Melbourne United to an 88-77 semi-final win over New Zealand Breakers on Saturday night.
Ware scored 33 points to lead Melbourne to their first play-off win under the United brand and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
The all-NBL first-team selection scored 13 points in the third quarter as Melbourne outscored the Breakers 24-18 to establish a match-winning lead.
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman was happy with his star guard's decision-making against the Breakers' defense.
"If they don't change it and he continues to make shots and he has 33 again, we will roll with that again," Vickerman said.
The visitors absorbed United's early pressure and restricted the home side to 33 per cent shooting in the first quarter but Casey Prather scored eight points in the second term and Ware took over in the second half to leave the minor premiers one win away from a grand final berth.
Prather finished with 15 points for the home side and Tai Wesley added 13.
DJ Newbill led New Zealand with 19 points while Shea Ili showed why he was named the NBL's most improved player with 16 points and five assists.
Breakers coach Paul Henare was disappointed to lose after gaining the upper hand in the first half.
"We gave them too many second-chance opportunities with a couple of breakdowns where Casper Ware and Chris Goulding get open threes," Henare said about the second half.
"They are opportunities that you just can't afford to give."
Melbourne scored the first six points of the game with Wesley attacking the basket and Ware drawing a foul from Edgar Sosa and converting the four-point play.
The lead extended to seven points but United's offense stalled and with Ili grabbing eight points after coming off the bench, the Breakers ended the first quarter with a 24-21 advantage.
United struck back with Prather opening the second quarter with five straight points, his last-second triple levelling the match 43-all at halftime.
With Ware taking charge on offense, the home side took a 67-61 lead into the final quarter and the home side closed out the contest.
The series now shifts to Auckland for game two on Monday night, with New Zealand needing the win to avoid elimination.
Australian Associated Press