Nuggets 90 Hawks 85
Edgar Centre, Dunedin
Before they jetted off to Dunedin coach Tab Baldwin had made it abundantly clear to his troops every game there on was to to be treated akin to a playoff and with a healthy peppering of desperation.
When the dust settled last night at the Edgar Centre last night the HBS Hawks found themselves licking their wounds to the tune of a 90-85 overtime defeat against the table-topping Otago Nuggets.
Whatever happens now, it'll become the defining moment of the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) for a proud franchise that has won only one crown (in 2006) but has made a rash of play-offs in seasons of what could have been.
With the Bay franchise pushing for the playoffs at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Taradale, Napier, on July 13-14 as the No 1 contenders to host, there must be an inkling of a rethink on whether that plan should go ahead until such time as the Hawks making the semifinals look more plausible.
If anything, it showed last night the visitors could match it with the definite playoff contenders, albeit running out of steam in the overtime spell.
A dejected Baldwin preferred to be more direct in his evaluation.
"Our rebound stats still show we're sailing ... and I would go as far as saying I firmly believe it cost us the game tonight," he lamented, claiming the damning statistics were very translucent and his hapless Hawks didn't have to look anywhere else if they want to start winning games.
Baldwin singled out 10 offensive rebounds the Hawks gifted to the Nuggets in the final quarter as the turning point to a game, which until then they were doing fine in.
"We know the problem and we knew it before the start of this game and we did something about it but we didn't do more when it counted."
He didn't want to contemplate the permutations to the playoffs because he felt anything could happen in the remaining games.
What he's adamant about is not leaving their semifinals fate in the hands of other oppositions.
"It's very difficult for me to talk about anything else right now because I can't get past my obsession with our rebounding stats."
Even if one were watching the game on the live stats of the NBL website, one couldn't miss the passion and determination of the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks who clawed their way back into the game in the third quarter to level terms at 57-57 after the hosts eclipsed them 23-22 and 19-17 in the the first two quarters for a three-point buffer going into the changing rooms.
The lead changed hands in the final quarter but with six seconds remaining neither side could wrest the advantage in a quarter that ended 78-all (21-21).
In the five-minute overtime spell, the Hawks trailed 89-85 with 56 seconds to play but it proved to be insurmountable as the Anthony "Alf" Arlidge-coached Nuggets emphatically claimed victory to maintain their breath-taking, unblemished eight-match streak in the NBL as they soldier towards their first playoffs berth since 1997.
The Hawks' home-game destroyer, BJ Anthony, was again unstoppable, finding big love with the rim with a don't-argue 25 points although the visitors' American import slasher, Brian Greene, had the game-high score of 26.
"We've lost to Otago both times now so I don; t want to be thinking about them any more," said Baldwin of the Hawks who have yet to play the Pero Cameron-coached Wellington Saints, Nelson Giants and bottom dwellers Waikato Pistons.
They tip off against the Paul Henare-coached Southland Sharks in Invercargill tonight in the hope of coming back with at least two points from the Deep South after beating the hosts in Napier in their first home game of the season.
The Hawks play the Saints at PG Arena on Saturday night.
Last night Winitana and import forward Serb Darko Cohadarevic fell into foul trouble as Baldwin employed Everard Bartlett and Dion Prewster to use some double-team defending under the posts to keep Otago's big men at bay.
That Otago imports Akeem Wright scored 18 points and Antoine Tisby only managed 10, he reckoned, was a testimony to the pair's staunch defence.
"Our offence can be better but that's definitely not what's costing us the game," Baldwin said, adding he expected the Hawks to execute their defensive systems to "the letter of the law".
He lauded the Mark Dickel-captained Nuggets, adding they were definitely playoff material and wished them all the best.
"They play smart basketball and they are definitely here to stay. They aren't flukes," Baldwin said of the rampant Southerners.