THE WRITING was on the wall in the first half for the Canterbury Rams in Christchurch last night.
Down 50-24, it would be priceless to find out what coach Dave Harrison would have said to his troops as the IMS Payroll Hawks ran riot in their Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) match.
What should have been a grudge match after a controversial last eight seconds and disallowed point in Napier on Friday last week, turned out to be grab-and-run in the lit alleyway of the full-house Cowles Stadium last night as the Hawks won 76-59.
At the halfway mark, the Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks dominated in every facet of play - field goals, steals, bench points rebounds, you name it.
But, just as they did at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Taradale in their previous clash, the Cantabrians rattled the visitors' cage with a 20-14 third quarter to reduced the 26-point deficit to 17 midway through the final spell.
Unlike at home, the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks switched to cruise mode but made sure they kept their foot on the Rams' throats despite losing the quarter 15-12 and distorting the overall statistics that will camouflage their memorable first-half display.
As patronising as it may sound to Canterbury, logic suggests Winitana and his men needed to conserve energy for today's vital clash against the Pacific Jewellers Saints at the PG Arena to determine who would occupy the top rung of the NBL ladder for the coming week.
"We had a lot agendas tonight - first to win the game and to come out strong," Baldwin said after the game, alluding to the previous controversial encounter.
"We needed to come out aggressive to take the match away from them."
Baldwin said their first-half performance was clinical and, consequently, had put them in pole position for the second half.
"We put our foot off the pedal a little in the second half but it allowed us to prepare for things like more court time for players and our defence was great," he said, putting it down to an "almost ideal" performance.
The Hawks bench again showed its worth with apprentice point guard Marco Alexander contributing 16 points in a shade over 22 minutes of court time despite finding no love from the hoop in three attempts from outside the arc.
Everard Bartlett scored 13 points, Jarrod Kenny one fewer while forward Kareem Johnson was the only double-double for the night with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The eye-catching stats go to fellow US import centre Dustin Scott who claimed a staggering 16 rebounds with a workhorse-like 10 defensive ones.
At the risk of sounding cliched, Baldwin preferred to put the effort down to the collective.
"A lot of kudos should go to Kareem who felt [Matthew] Rogers got too much room in the last game and was getting his way so Kareem took it personally.
"That kind of demonstrates what Kareem is capable of."
Baldwin felt Winitana had marshalled his troops to keep the Rams' big guns silent.
Rogers managed only two points and six rebounds while Marcel Jones settled for three.
Rams skipper and ex-Hawk point guard Jeremy Kench posted a game-high 17 points with four assists, rebounds and steals each.
The Hawks also made the Rams pay with second-chance points (18-4).
"Every facet of our game was right and the first half [statistics] reflected that," Baldwin said.
"I could have been jumping up and down but it [the second spell] didn't have much resemblance to last week."
The Hawks jetted from Christchurch at 7am today but were expected to have light session mid-afternoon before tonight's tip off.
"We're ready to play so there are no excuses from us," he said, after a rash of double-headers in a space of a few weeks.
"We have a score to settle and we're expecting a big crowd tomorrow."
The Saints pipped the Hawks in overtime in Wellington in the opening round and are coming off a 98-99 victory over the Breakers Manawatu Jets in the capital on Thursday.
NZ Breakers guard Corey Webster scored a game-high 33 points despite committing three fouls in the first quarter which saw him sit out the second spell.
The Fico Finance Giants have survived a late scare to defeat the OceanaGold Nuggets 83-79 at Edgar Centre, Dunedin, last night.
Nelson had built a 14-point lead with a shade less than four minutes to go but three straight shots outside the arc from the Nuggets, followed by a Warren Carter two pointer had closed to within three with 1:24 to go.
Ex-Hawk Josh Pace shared an equal game-high 26 points with Brendon Polyblank from the Nuggets.
The Giants host Zerofees Sharks tonight.