Coming into Saturday night as the NBL's third highest scorer at 21.67 points per game, Melbourne United's Melo Trimble only wanted to talk defence in the lead up to Throwdown III, and in particular, his matchup with explosive South East Melbourne Phoenix guard, John Roberson.
"It's not about scoring [for me], [Roberson]'s such a good scorer and shoots the way he shoots so I don't mind not scoring, not shooting as I just want to stop him as much as I can and help us win," Trimble declared after United's win over Adelaide last weekend.
True to his word, Trimble applied the clamps to Roberson, holding him to just eight points on seven shots on Saturday, in a stunning defensive stand that led to the Phoenix star fouling out with 1:34 left.
Remarkably, with Trimble putting Roberson on lockdown, he himself went into the halftime break scoreless, while registering just one assist. "My teammates told me to just be me and keep being confident. Coach also said if I'm not aggressive he was going to take me out," Trimble revealed.
Unlike Roberson, the United guard was able to loosen the shackles in the second half, beginning with a critical play in the third quarter that gave a perfect illustration of the marquee matchup on the night.
In perhaps the first visible sign of frustration taking hold, Roberson attempted to bring the ball up the court with Trimble shadowing his every step. In an attempt to create separation, Roberson gave Trimble a forearm shove and was subsequently whistled for an offensive foul.
"I would get frustrated if I was him too, if I couldn't get my normal looks like that. He's a really good shooter and I wasn't giving him no daylight at all, he had that one three at the beginning of the game but other than that, he didn't have anything going," Trimble responded when asked about the play.
Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell lamented his team's ability to gain control in the pivotal matchup.
"[Roberson] has been extremely reliable in the second half of games where even if he's off to a slow start he's been able to get himself going. It didn't happen tonight and tremendous credit to Shea Ili and Melo Trimble for making him work extremely hard to get open or not at all, they didn't let him get open at times," Mitchell said.
While Roberson's tough night completely derailed the Phoenix, a smiling Trimble recalled a sense of calm at halftime.
"At halftime even though I didn't score I wasn't too mad because he wasn't getting a lot of open looks or having his day either so I just feel like from here on out, just defence and the offence will take care of itself."
The 24-year-old's faith in his own ability to score held true, as he remarkably led all scorers for United with 22 points. Fittingly, he iced the game at the free-throw line while Roberson watched on from the sidelines.
It was a dominant final quarter for Trimble, as he continuously created havoc getting to the basket, finishing with 12 points on a staggering 10 free-throw attempts.
"Melo just closed things out. It was a great last five minutes, I'll watch that one back, but I thought his decision making was just outstanding in the last five minutes," United coach Dean Vickerman said.
Going undrafted in the 2017 NBA draft, one of the major criticisms of Trimble's game was his consistency on the defensive end.
"Since I've been playing the good defence I know that I can play we've been winning, so I just want to keep that up and not just on him, but like I've been telling everyone, a lot of point guards in this league are scoring point guards and every night I have to bring my best defensive game and the offence will take care of itself," Trimble said postgame.
While Trimble's renewed attention to detail defensively has been a major reason for United's five game winning streak, it also tells the story of a maturing pro, whose best basketball is most certainly still in front of him.