NBL: Is it the Year of the Hawks?

By Anendra Singh

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Hawks coach Tab Baldwin (centre, foreground) after winning the NBL 2014 Coach of the Year title in Wellington on Friday. PHOTO/Anendra Singh
Hawks coach Tab Baldwin (centre, foreground) after winning the NBL 2014 Coach of the Year title in Wellington on Friday. PHOTO/Anendra Singh

One more nervous sleep before the Hawks can get their claws on the silverware for the best basketball team in the country tonight.

But then again, one could argue the IMS Payroll-sponsored team have done enough this Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) season to rest their heads on the pillow comfortable in the knowledge no one deserves the crown more than them.

The Tab Baldwin-coached Hawke's Bay franchise last night beat Zerofees Southland Sharks 100-87 in Wellington to book a berth in the grand final against Pacific Jewellers Wellington Saints who made short work of the Fico Finance Nelson Giants, 89-71, in the second semifinal after leading 54-32 at halftime.

After the first semifinal of the Final Four at TSB Bank Arena, the Hawks deservedly picked up the NBL coach of the year title for Baldwin who led his team to minor premier bragging rights.

But knowing the former Tall Blacks coach, the honour would lose its sheen if his troops don't end up cutting the net off the rim tonight at the same venue.

Point guard Jarrod Kenny said the Hawks had done the hard yards in the January camp.

The Paul Henare-coached Sharks fought gallantly in the first half but the Hawks again showed why they are a third-quarter side, grounding them down 25-16.

After that it was a case of catch-up play for the defending champions from South Island.

So what did Baldwin say to the Hawks at halftime?

"Oh we just talked about all the basics in our manual - you know rebounding, boxing and keeping the tempo up," Kenny said.

"We just wanted to keep the game moving and fast so just the way we like it."

Was there anything the Hawks want to sharpen up for tonight's grand final at 7pm?

"Just our defence.

They scored too many points in the first half.

We wanted to tighten it up in the second half and we did," said the Tall Blacks hopeful.

The Hawks pride themselves for working as a collective, not a bunch of individuals and that mantra rang true again last night.

Hawks American import, power forward Dustin Scott, named in the 2014 All Star side last night, showed his worth again despite flirting with foul trouble in the first half.

Reflecting on the University of Charleston graduate's foul situation, Kenny said it was a problem the Hawks have had to grapple with all season.

"Tomorrow night we want to come out and play clean and just take the game to them."

Kenny lauded the contingent of Bay fans who made the trip to the capital city as the Hawks chase their second NBL title since winning the maiden one under former coach Shawn Dennis.

"It made a huge difference to us to have them make all that noise out there."

The first quarter ended 25-24 in favour of the Sharks as both sides traded shots.

They also didn't waste time in putting up the shutters as players opted to shoot from deep.

Scott was outstanding in rebounds while Kenny and shooting guard Everard Bartlett took over the floor management although the Cook Island drummers drowned out most calls.

Sharks player/coach Paul Henare wasn't shy to question the referees as the No4 qualifiers led 5-3 in the foul department.

The second quarter was 22-19 to the top qualifiers although they were guilty of not hanging tough off the offensive board.

Bench forward James Paringatai elbowed apprentice point guard Marco Alexander in the chops with a shade over a minute to go.

Referee Miguel Gallardo had to ask Henare, on the sideline, and his bench players to calm down as they howled in protest over a decision. The teams went into the changing shed with the Hawks leading 46-44.

The Paora Winitana-led Hawks were guilty of making a few unforced errors.

Bartlett led the scoring for the Hawks with 11 points while Scott added nine.

However, Baldwin benched the import power forward midway through the second quarter after picking up two fouls with Darryl Jones picking up the load.

The third quarter didn't start well with Scott getting pinged for travelling but everything else was about the Hawks.

They defended as if their lives depended on it and then found love with the rim with enough consistency to open up a 10-point lead (56-46) with 6:50 to go.

For the Sharks, a pint-sized Luke Martin kept the Hawks honest with some neat baskets.

With 3:22 remaining on the clock, that lead became a 12-point margin as Henare called a time-out with import Brian Conklin sitting on three individual fouls.

Conklin also found little traction from the free-throw line in that spell.

With Conklin cold the Sharks relied too much on Martin and import point guard Kevin Braswell to find baskets.

The quarter ended with the Hawks 71-60 ahead, leaving no doubts about how they have consistently been a third-quarter side.

In the final quarter, Braswell kept the smattering of Hawks fans quiet with some baskets swishing through the net from way downtown as they closed the gap to five points only three minutes into the quarter.

However, the Hawks kept plugging away, working the ball into the shooting lane to shred the Sharks defence.

With 4:10 left on the clock, the writing was on the wall for the Sharks, trailing by 13 points and guard Dan Peck reduced to holding Alexander before trying to intimidate him after he got pinged.

It was obvious the off-field antics of Henare's men had taken its toll on their season.

Hawks' Tanya Dearns was named administrator of the year.

Bartlett and Winitana top scored with 24 points each and Scott was again Mr Double-Double.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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