Melbourne United pushes NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder to limit

Russell Westbrook (L) and Casey Prather scramble for the ball J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Melbourne United had everything from injuries, jet lag, talent and one of the NBA's most intimidating crowds against them, but they rallied to almost pull off a stunning victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder held on to defeat Melbourne 86-85 in a thriller at Oklahoma's Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday.

With five seconds left in the latest NBL-NBA exhibition clash United big man Josh Boone looked like he had the match-winner, but his shot close to the basket was blocked by Thunder reserve forward Josh Heustis.

United retained the ball and with one second to go Heustis was the unlikely saviour again for the All-Star laden Thunder when he blocked Melbourne forward Casey Prather's potential game-winning driving lay-up to leave the score at 86-85.

"We trusted our defence and I just happened to be in the right position to make the play," Heustis said.

The Australians were not intimidated despite facing some of the NBA's biggest stars, including guard Russell Westbrook who just signed a $(US) 205-million contract extension and new All-Star recruits Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

United, led by Casper Ware's 20 points, six rebounds and three assists and Boone's 15 points and nine rebounds, including four offensive, remained close throughout the game and held leads for stretches.

United pushed the Thunder so hard coach Billy Donovan was unable to rest his starters during the pre-season game, with George (22 points) playing 39 minutes, Anthony (19 points) on the court for 31 minutes and Kiwi centre Steven Adams (12 points and 10 rebounds) logging 35 minutes.

Reigning NBA MVP Westbrook, coming back from injury, played a longer than expected 28 minutes for his nine points, seven assists and five rebounds.

"That demands a level of respect doesn't it?" Aussie David Andersen said. "Just making them play their starters."

Anthony paid tribute to Adams for his strong defence. The big Kiwi could not resist a joke after the game by referring to the infamous 1981 underarm bowling New Zealand-Australia cricket controversy.

"I thought they were going to cheat, mate," Adams said.

Melbourne lost two key players before the game, with Chris Goulding out with appendicitis and Peter Hooley hurting his ankle on Saturday in practice.