Melbourne United captain Chris Goulding says curbing the influence of Perth Wildcats sharpshooter Todd Blanchfield will be his team's focus ahead of a pivotal game two on Sunday as the title favourites aim to gain a stranglehold of the NBL grand final series.
The minor premiers, who finished three games ahead of second-placed Wildcats in the regular season, prevailed 73-70 in a game one thriller on Friday night at RAC Arena.
But United were below their best and only just survived a rousing comeback from an injury-ravaged Wildcats, who have been mostly written off since a season-ending quad injury to three-time MVP Bryce Cotton.
The two-time defending champions were further depleted when young gun Luke Travers was ruled out due to calf soreness, while starter Clint Steindl exited in the first half with a groin injury.
It was left to Blanchfield to pick up the slack and he delivered with a game-high 27 points in the best-of-five series opener.
"Todd is now the focal point of their offence," said Goulding, who scored a team-high 23 points in game one.
"He's been a great complimentary player to Bryce. Now he's the main guy and we have to lock in on him. He was a problem."
With the first two games held in Perth due to the COVID-19 situation in Melbourne, it is not yet known where the rest of the series will be played.
Goulding said United, who have won their last three games at RAC Arena, were not focused on the uncertainty.
"We are taking each game as individual grand final games," he said.
"It's very pleasing to get the first one and now the mindset goes to doing something that is really tough and getting two away wins to start a grand final series."
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson, who is striving for a record-equalling sixth NBL championship, said Travers and Steindl were in doubt for game two.
"It's a little bit too early to call. We just have to wait," he said.
Gleeson remained encouraged even though the Wildcats' bid for a first-ever hat-trick of titles appears precariously placed.
"We played with a lot of heart and passion," he said.
"I love our energy and how we are facing adversity."
Australian Associated Press