Sharper Pistons show potential
The Waikato Pistons appear to be a team rapidly on the improve.
It wasn't just their second-half performance in an 84-62 win over the Taranaki Mountain Airs in Hamilton today that left that impression.
The hosts outscored Taranaki 54-32 in the second 20 minutes at Hamilton Boys' High School to score their second win in the National Basketball League this season.
But even in a low-scoring first half, the Pero Cameron-coached side show plenty of promise.
The Advice First Pistons scored the first win of their new campaign last weekend when beating an understrength SuperCity Rangers 85-75 in Waitakere. That win came on the back of a patchy showing but yesterday's victory was far more cohesive.
Ball movement on offence was sharper, allowing the Pistons to get good open looks - especially when the Taranaki defence tired in the later stages. There were still a few defensive lapses but any time a team is kept to under 65 points in 40 minutes - even one as limited offensively as the Mountain Airs - the likelihood of winning becomes huge.
The small crowd may have had some nerves in the first half as the Pistons could not register the points most of their approach deserved, while Casey Frank excelled on the defensive boards.
Some sloppiness crept in late in the first quarter, as the Pistons trailed 15-10 at the first break, but they soon grabbed a narrow lead after a sharp start to the second period. The defence also forced a series of turnovers from the visitors but, again, the Pistons could not take full advantage at the other end.
The hosts finished the first half shooting 34 per cent from the field, 18 per cent (2/11) from three-point range and 46 per cent (6/13 from the free-throw line), with the two sides locked at 30-all.
Akeem Wright was prominent offensively in the third quarter driving to the basket, and the penetration and some slick passing at the top of the key soon allowed the hosts to find well-placed shooters who started to knock down their opportunities. Zac Carter became influential at both ends of the court, while sweet-shooting lefty Karl Noyer contributed two quick treys coming off the bench as the hosts stole away to a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter against a team who had lost in Hawke's Bay the previous evening.
Import Corin Henry also began to prove tough for the Mountain Airs to contain as the match progressed - the speed of the former Sydney Kings guard had him regularly get to the rim as the Pistons established a winning edge early in the fourth, allowing Cameron to sit many of his starters for most of the last 10 minutes.
Taranaki's frustrations boiled over in the final period when hard-nosed forward Aaron Bailey-Nowell marked his 200th NBL match by being ejected after arguing with the match officials.
Wright and Henry both finished with 18 points, with Wright adding nine rebounds while also helping keep Adrian Oliver quiet for Taranaki. Henry also had four assists and three steals as he looked more in tune with his new side.
Frank was typically busy and effective with nine points, nine boards and six assists in 31 minutes, while the hosts got 31 points off the bench, as Alex Talma and Jack Salt joined Noyer in providing impetus.
Oliver was held to 16 points on 7/16 shooting (1/6 from deep) while fellow import Suleiman Braimoh was rewarded for his hard work at centre with 13 points and 11 boards.
A quirk in the NBL schedule has the Pistons' next two matches away against Taranaki (April 24) and home to the Rangers two days later.
They should move to 4-1 for the season and be even better tuned for far stiffer tests to come in May.