Taranaki Mountain Airs in sharp return to form

TONY BIRD
Last updated 23:00 24/05/2013
Kenny Gabriel
JONATHAN CAMERON/Fairfax NZ
THE AIR UP THERE: Taranaki Mountain Airs import Kenny Gabriel gets plenty of Waikato Piston Tai Webster's arm as he tries to block a shot in their NBL game at TSB Stadium.

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The Taranaki Mountain Airs scored a confidence building victory when dispatching the hapless Waikato Pistons 97-71 in a National Basketball League match in New Plymouth last night.

On the back of a three-game losing streak, the win is a timely boost as tonight the Good Home Mountain Airs are away to NBL heavyweights the Nelson Giants.

The low point of the night for the Airs was when American import Kenny Gabriel was disqualified after mouthing off at match officials late in the game.

The incident isn't expected to prevent the sharpshooter from turning out for the Airs against the Giants tonight, but that still had to be confirmed by officials.

The Mountain Airs were expected to beat the winless Pistons and started well, shooting out to a 28-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Pistons closed the gap to 11 at halftime, outscoring the Airs 19-15, but a third-quarter scoring blitz - when the Airs stretched their lead to 71-42 - put the game out of reach.

The Airs had the chance to empty their bench in the last few minutes of the game.

It was a sharp turnaround in form after back-to-back maulings in a double header on the road to the Southland Sharks and league frontrunners the Otago Nuggets last weekend.

The Mountain Airs' win was one based on defence, a revitalised side desperate to make the playoffs.

Taranaki's "Mr Reliable" Link Abrams had a game-high 27 points and was one of seven Airs players in double figures.

Gabriel (24) and 11 boards, Jack Leasure (19), Ethan Rusbatch (18), who celebrated his birthday with a strong game, Aaron Bailey-Nowell (15), Sid Adams (13) and Brad Anderson (12) all made it into double figures.

"It's just good to do things we planned to do," said Airs head coach David Bublitz, who was clearly relieved to see his side back winning again.

"The guys knuckled down and showed what they are capable of tonight.

"I think we played really good defence and keeping them to 71 points was really good in my opinion."

On the Gabriel incident, Bublitz said his player got frustrated after he got pushed in the back by a Pistons player and the referee didn't call the foul. On three fouls at the time, Gabriel was then slapped with two technical fouls and disqualified.

He said the Airs could possibly appeal the disqualification.

The Pistons benefited by five points from the free-throw line over the incident, but it was well short of what they needed to end their seven-game winless run.

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The Mountain Airs were due to leave New Plymouth Airport at 6.50am today for the trip to Nelson.

"Hopefully we can have the same sort of energy we had tonight down [in Nelson] tomorrow night," Bublitz said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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