Melbourne United's unlikely push for an NBL semifinal berth moved one step closer to reality following a controversial 101-91 victory over the Brisbane Bullets to win their fourth game in a row and inch closer to the top six.
Languishing in ninth spot midway through the season, United claimed their eighth scalp in their past 10 contests after closing out the Bullets at Nissan Arena on Saturday to maintain seventh spot on the ladder behind cross-town rivals South East Melbourne.
Melbourne's winning run almost came to a spectacular end after Brisbane, desperate to atone for their record-setting 49-point loss against title favourites Sydney Kings, produced a 26-6 charge in the third quarter to recover from a 22-point deficit and spark hopes of a much-needed win for the struggling franchise.
But United capitalised on a missed timeout call from Bullets coach Greg Vanderjagt to steal back the momentum as Chris Goulding and Rayjon Tucker sank crucial three-pointers to put Melbourne back up by double digits.
Vanderjagt will seek an explanation from the league following the confusion over his attempted challenge on an out-of-bounds call that saw play continue despite a clear timeout signal made toward the scorer's table.
"I was told by the officials that I couldn't challenge the call because there was actually no call made, it was a jump ball call so you can't challenge a jump ball. I was unaware of it but at no point did I cancel my timeout," Vangerjagt said about the pivotal decision.
Melbourne were awarded possession from the referee's ruling and Goulding drilled a three-pointer before adding another and Tucker chipped in with a long-range bomb of his own to put United up by 11.
"It is a game of momentum and in that instance right there, we had all the momentum in the game and it was taken away from us," Vangerjagt said.
Tucker finished with 30 points, Goulding made five three-pointers in his 21-point haul and Xavier Rathan-Mayes added 20 as United boosted their win-loss record to 13-12 to set up an enthralling race for the league's inaugural Play-In Tournament.
"I think that's what the league was all about this year going to the Play-In Tournament and everyone is playing at such a high level in these last few rounds of the season," Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman said.
"It's good for fans, it's good for everybody playing the game of basketball the way everyone's competing right now."
Aron Baynes played his best game in a Bullets uniform with a powerful double-double (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Nathan Sobey chimed in with 18 points and six assists but it was not enough to prevent the Bullets (5-17) from crashing to a fifth straight defeat.