It's never easy to beat the Wellington Saints anywhere but to do it on their home turf was always going to be a tall task tonight.
Just ask the Taylor Corporation Hawks after they succumbed 106-79 to the Cigna-sponsored Saints in their opening match of the Sal's Pizza National Basketball League (NBL) game at the TSB Arena in the capital city.
Some will argue it was an opportune time for the Zico Coronel-coached Hawks to catch the Saints on a canter, on account of two freshly assembled outfits, while others will counter it was an ideal chance to gauge what skipper Jarrod Kenny and his troops needed to do if they want to be in the Final Four again this season.
Either way, the four quarters showed glimpses of what sort of mood new Wellington coach Paul Henare puts his men into when push will come to shove at the height of the courts of contention in the NBL this winter.
It isn't just a case of how champion sides start but also how they finish that defines their constitution and dictates early where they will be, come the business end.
The hosts took the first quarter 27-17, didn't loosen their grip in the second, 26-23 (53-40), before losing ground in the third, 22-25 (75-65), before the don't-argue final fling of 31-14.
Put another way, it was an open-and-shut case so please show us what you got in the duffel bag the next time we meet again.
Coronel said people were talking about the Wellingtonians "as the best Saints team ever on paper".
"So it's a significantly better Saints team than a normal one," he said. "I'm partial to the 2017 team but this team may be the next best team on paper, which has to be proven, of course."
Coronel did not want to treat tonight's game as a sort of fait accompli and didn't think any competitor would want to "get it out of the way" otherwise why compete in the NBL at all.
In the same breath, though, the second-year Hawks mentor again juxtaposed the gulf in resources between the two franchises, which unashamedly made cheque book-heavy teams a foregone conclusions into the playoffs.
"We know, as we spoke about, we don't have the resources or the budget that the top teams have," he said, revealing Wellington had a big and variable roster that could mutate to playing fast, slow as well as shoot from the inside and outside perimeters.
Conversely, the Hawks have had to scrutinise their budget to come up with a way to be a "dangerous" outfit and then work hard rather than get "caught up in chasing their tails".
"If we had another extra $200,000 in paying salaries and other resources on top of that, with another $100,000 we'd have a complete group," Coronel said, adding the Hawks would identify their strengths and leverage them this season before knowing what progress they make against the powerhouses.
So what will the Hawks take from tonight's brimstone-and-fire welcome to the NBL?
Coronel said his troops had to make incremental improvements in facets of play.
"We've had successes but we'll get better at executing what we do in trying to make the game go the way we would like to although the Saints are a difficult match up for any team across the board."
The Saints outplayed the visitors in field goals (50 per cent to 39), two pointers (64/41), rebounds (63/30) and assists (25/14) but the Hawks pipped them in the three-point perimeter (36/32) and free throws (66/50).
While he didn't have a statistics sheet at the game, Coronel felt one got a sharper picture watching the game.
Saints Australian import Nicholas Kay stamped his supremacy with a double-double 25 points and 11 rebounds, and eight assists to boot. Shea Ili (22pts), Jordan Ngatai (17) and Reuben Te Rangi (15) backed him up.
American import EJ Singler top scored with 17 points for the Hawks while former Boomer centre Daniel Kickert added 14. Swingman Dion Prewster was one behind Boomer Kay in the assists department with seven and just as many points.
"All three imports are very good quality people and they have fitted into the group exceedingly well ... ," Coronel said, emphasising they had built good community rapport in the short time they had been here.
American forward Shaquille Thomas, a temporary import while Brandon Bowman is plying his trade in Israel, also had showed some skills 48 hours after jetting into Napier with limited time to scrimmage.
"EJ acquitted himself very well and for the part when he was on court he started to play is part which is what we would have expected him to do with his pedigree."
Coronel said win or lose nothing about their process changes because videotaped footage would be revisited to re-evaluate their systems.
Consequently the Hawks would endeavour to play as well as they can tomorrow in the second leg of the double header when they host 2 Cheap Cars Supercity Rangers (Auckland) at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Napier in the 7pm tip off.