The Hawks' resurrection continued as they scraped home by the skin of their teeth and one could see why in the arm wrestle that unfolded in the second and third quarters in New Plymouth last night.
Little separated the Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawke's Bay franchise team from the Augusta Taranaki Mountainairs in the first and final quarters as the visitors edged out the hosts 90-87 in the round-two match of the Sal's National Basketball League at the TSB Stadium.
"Basketball. I mean you've seen enough games to know that there are some games you're going to win with a big scoring margin and then there's going to be those that'll come down to the wire, so this one was one that came down to the wire," Hawks coach Zico Coronel said last night after the Airs made their move in the second spell, 29-19, before the Jarrod Kenny-captained Hawks returned with a don't-argue 22-16 in the third.
When push comes to shove the big men, in particular, come to the fore.
Airs import Javonte Douglas couldn't follow up with a double-double but did claim a game-high 30 points, while ex-Hawk guard and captain Alonzo Burton scored 14 points and took seven rebounds as well as many assists.
That double-double honour belonged to the Hawks' Australian import centre, Angus Brandt, who nailed 23 points and 14 rebounds, although swingman Dion Prewster claimed a team-high 25 points and seven rebounds to boot. Kenny chimed in with 14 points and five assists.
Coronel praised the Trent Adam-coached Airs for their preparation and discipline to adhere to the game plan.
"They turned the ball over only four times in the whole game. They won the possession game and had more opportunities than us," he said after the Hawks found themselves adrift by as many as 15 points going into the third spell.
That spurred Prewster and Brandt into spearheading the Hawks into a 10-2 run, prompting Adam and assistant David Bublitz to call a time out, to no avail.
The final spell see-sawed with the Airs tempted to chance their arms from the carpark but they found no love from the rim.
However, Coronel said the Airs upped the physicality stakes in an attempt to disrupt the Hawks' timing and had had considerable success in doing that.
"Trent Adam and his coaching staff deserve a certain amount of credit for how close the game was."
He said Douglas was "phenomenal" in the first half, surging to become a 22-point stakeholder in the Mountainairs' 49 points.
"That was one of the things we spoke about - not so much the ra-ra about how he can't have 22 points in a half - on some of the adjustments we needed to make to limit his good shooting opportunities although he still finished with 30 but that was calling up someone quite a bit in the second half."
Coronel felt it was a collective effort to put up the storm shutters on Douglas who would be the pick of imports for the Airs this season.
"They [Hawks] ran a lot of action as a team and utilised the shot clock to the maximum so you're going to get the match ups and the help and switches but it will never be anyone personally, especially against Taranaki and the way that they play," he said when asked on who had the portfolio to do the job on Douglas.
Coronel said what was different in the second quarter was the Airs' defence which saw his men rush their passes to players who had open looks at the rims but perhaps a better ploy should have been generating better angles to shoot from.
In the third, the Hawks had turned on their intensity, something he had impressed in the changing rooms at halftime on playing closer to their capabilities.
"We saw a better effort and a much better defence - they had 16 in that quarter, which isn't a pittance but it's much fewer."
A rash of stops also saw the Hawks claw their way back from 56-41 to trailing 58-57 for a better sniff at eking out victory.
The Hawks' higher shooting statistics, he felt, was on account of their physical assault on the interior who exploited points from certain positions.
"It wasn't probably as good as what we'd normally shoot it but we found ways to better ourselves in the interior, which is reflected in the 52 points we got from the paint."
He also reflected on the 32 fouls shots from the charity line, which Brandt, US import Jamie Skeen and Prewster, with his triple penetration, milked to the hilt.
Coronel was happy with his men's rebounding in the second half but felt the Mountainairs' "long and skinny people" had attacked the boards quite aggressively to claim advantage in the first half.
"It's great for us to come on the road to get two wins," he said but emphasised next week they had defending champions Wellington Saints on the road on Friday before returning home to host Mike Pero Nelson Giants at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, on Saturday night.
Coronel said it was good the Hawks had shown some character tonight to fight their way out of a hole.
In Christchurch, the SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks, who lost to the Hawks in the opening round in Napier, tonight won their second game in a row with a 108-95 result over the Wheeler Motor Canterbury Rams.
The Sharks play the Giants at Trafalgar Centre, Nelson, tomorrow night.
■ Result: Airs 87 (Javonte Douglas 30pts, 5 reb, 4 asts: Alonzo Burton 14pts, 7 reb, 7 asts; Xavier Smith 13pts, 1 block; Dane Brooks 11pts, 5 reb; Roger Woods 11pts) Hawks 90 (Dion Prewster 25pts, 7 reb: Angus Brandt 23pts, 14 reb, 5 asts, 1 block; Jarrod Kenny 14pts, 5 asts).
Quarters (Airs first): 1st, 20-19; 2nd, 49-38 (29-19); 3rd, 65-60 (16-22); 4th, 87-90 (22-23).