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NZL - Winning for Willie

AUCKLAND (NBL) - NBL legend Willie Burton celebrated his imminent retirement with his first start of the season, inspiring his Easy LPG Bay Hawks to a 94-78 blowout over one of his former teams, NZCT Taranaki Mountain Airs in Napier.

The game, designated a benefit match for the league's all-time leader in games played and rebounds, stayed close until the final quarter, when the Hawks drew away 25-15 to finally finish the short-handed Airs.

Captain Paora Winitana led the Hawks with 22 points, while veteran Link Abrams led all scorers with 25 for Taranaki. Burton, who turns 44 later this month, played nine minutes for two points, fouling out with a minute remaining.

The Hawks (12-3) will be trying to give Burton the send-off he deserves for his achievements next month when they attempt to win him his first league title.

This victory keeps them within striking distance of the league-leading GI Juice Auckland Stars (14-2) in the contest for the regular season title and home advantage in the post-season.

They host Scenic Circle Canterbury Rams on Friday, while the Airs are idle until their home encounter with the Rams the following Friday.

Easy LPG Bay Hawks 94 (Paora Winitana 22, Field Williams 20, Adrian Majstrovich 20, Kareem Johnson 12)
NZCT Taranaki Mountain Airs 78 (Link Abrams 25, Cody Toppert 22, Tony Rampton 22)

Grant Chapman