The Hawks tipped off with a hiss and a roar and didn't look back after eking out another much-needed victory against Taranaki Mountainairs in New Plymouth last night.
In the battle of pride for two non-Final Four teams in the National Basketball League, it was always going to be about incremental growths especially mentally for Taylor Corporation Hawks.
The Benny Hill-coached visitors certainly went a fair way in their 85-73 win to exorcise their demons against the hosts who they felt they should have beaten twice before.
"Can we sweep the Hawks?" was a one of their motivating slogans that Hill and his assistants, Clifton Bush II and Kaine Hokianga, put before the troops last night from a match programme.
"So the guys read that and obviously took it to heart," said Hill after the Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett co-skippered Hawks closed the first quarter with a scorching 29-18 statement on their way to ending their seven-game losing streak.
The slogan was pertaining to preventing the Airs from claiming a 3-0 sweep over the Hawks.
The other slogan was: "Why not [play] now?"
American import centre Amir Williams led all scorers with 23 points, Kenny contributed 17 and clocked seven assists while Bartlett just missed out on a double-double with 16 points and nine off the board in the Hawks' fourth win of the season before they jet off today for Invercargill to play their last game against second-placed SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks tomorrow.
"The stats weren't great here. Amir had at least 20 boards so he killed the boards," he said of Williams who left the court with about six minutes left in the last quarter.
"He got hacked and picked a cut in the face so Ana stepped in and did a very good job," he said of swingman Anamata Haku who scored 10 points in 21 minutes of court time.
The Hawks found love with the rim straight off, dropping 15 of their first 21 field goals, building a 41-22 lead in the second spell. However, a 10-0 blitz from the Airs got the hosts within seven for the locker-room pep talk.
After the break, Taranaki narrowed the margin to within four but the Hawks shifted gears to bump that margin back into double-digits heading into the final spell.
The Hawks didn't muck around, opening a 21-point gulf with four minutes remaining but, in the ritual of heralding in the final buzzer, they let Taranaki inject some respectability into the score for a 4-14 record, four below their record last season.
Tylor Ongwae scored 17 points and ex-Hawk Alonzo Burton only managed 10. Williams kept a leash on import Daniel Gomis although he racked up 14 off the glass.
Hill lauded his men's defence which put Gomis in foul trouble.
Taranaki are on track to collect the wooden spoon but the Nelson Giants can do them a favour if they win and the Hawks lose to the Sharks. By virtue of having beaten the Hawks twice before the Airs will relegate the Hawks to the last rung provided the other variables kick in.
If all three finish at 4-14 then it will come down to points differential as they will have the same number of wins when the games were played between them. The Hawks will finish fifth (+37), the Giants sixth (-15) and the Airs last (-20), if what the number crunchers in NBL are saying is anything to go by.
The last scenario is if the Hawks and the Giants both end the season with wins, then the Hawks will finish fifth because they hold the tiebreak over the Giants.
Hill is hoping they won't have any flight delay issues like they did in their first trip to Invercargill when they had to return to Christchurch due to heavy fog which meant they returned to play on game day.
"If they put in an effort like they did against the Wellington Saints then we'll probably end up winning [tomorrow]," he said, reflecting on the Hawks' last home game at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, last Saturday when they showed ticker but lost 98-90.
Southland, he emphasised, weren't as slick as the undefeated defending champions Saints but it was again a case of flipping a coin to see which Hawks team would turn up in Invercargill.
"We'll go through same motions we went through today and, hopefully, the guys will turn up [tomorrow] for a win."
Hill wasn't sure what Southland's philosophy was going into the Final Four but he suspected they might rest some of their key players although it's debatable whether any team would want to lose a winning habit at such a crucial juncture.
"We're going to go with all our guns blazing because we have something to prove against them."
Hill expected Williams to have some running repairs to his nose but last night veteran US import Kareem Johnson was battling a bout of food poisoning or, according to Hill, "soft".
Johnson managed only five minutes on the court and scored two points.
Taranaki Mountainairs 73 (Tylor Ongwae 17pts, Alonzo Burton 10pts, Daniel Gomis 14 reb) Taylor Corporation Hawks 85 (Amir Williams 23pts, 6 reb; Jarrod Kenny 17pts, 7 assists; Everard Bartlett 16pts, 9 reb; Anamata Haku 10pts).
1st Q: 18-29. 2nd: 34-49 (16-20). 3rd: 54-67 (20-18). 4th: 73-85 (20-17).