The BB gun, Brandon Bowman, was firing on as many cylinders as he could, even when his chambers started blocking up early in the third quarter, to help the Hawks book a grand final berth against NZ NBL favourites Wellington Saints in Christchurch tomorrow.
American import Bowman, named the man of the match, posted a game-high 26 points and collected 10 rebounds for a double-double as the Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawks came through 74-68 in a dog fight against the Canterbury Rams in the second semifinal at the Horncastle Arena tonight.
All the talk was about the Jarrod Kenny-captained Hawks "upsetting" the Emmett Naar-skippered Rams but the second-placed qualifiers showed they could stray from their three-point plan to beat the hosts at their own defensive game in the Final 4.
Under the tutelage of Zico Coronel, the Hawke's Bay outfit have already broken new ground to go a step higher in the National Basketball league against the Saints who beat the Southland Sharks 95-89 in a physical affair.
But the Hawks will need a gargantuan effort, especially from their snipers, if they are going to do the unthinkable against Paul Henare's men in the grand final when it tips off at 6.30pm.
For now the probability of an impending loss is the ugly fact a semifinal victory hides behind the apron of a grand final berth and she hides it well.
Coronel didn't try to romanticise the Hawks' lack of grandeur in a low-scoring affair tonight that had unashamedly draped the sexy up-tempo, three-point philosophy in gumboots and overall.
"Referees generally let players be a lot more physical and you're playing against teams who don't give up a lot of easy things," Coronel said, revealing it was all about doing one's homework on the rivals to cover all bases.
"It ended up being an ugly game."
He put down the low scores to the Rams who were the best defensive unit in the NBL this winter.
"You know, we'd love to score ... but they take away a lot of the easy stuff ... which makes it a low-scoring, grinding game so they deserve a good amount of credit for that."
However, Coronel reiterated defensively the Hawks were the third best, behind Wellington, after staking claim as the No 1 last season.
He saluted Kenny, Ethan Rusbatch , Dion Prewster and Everard Bartlett as exceptional defensive guards to put a leash on Canterbury import Cameron Gliddon to just eight points in disabling his long-range missiles.
"Cam's hugely dangerous so [they] were outstanding in making everything difficult for him and we kind of beat them in their own game," he said of the Boomer.
The Saints, Coronel said, were "seven shoulders" above the rest because of their resources, Henare's tutelage and ability to gel as a cohesive unit.
"They have an almost ANBL roster so they deserve every accolade that comes to them."
However, he said Shea Ili was named most outstanding NZ guard at the NBL awards last night but fans could easily forget only five seasons ago he was a bench player for the Supercity Rangers.
"I kind of believe we represent all the middle-budget teams — the Manawatus, Rangers, the Nelsons — to maybe make some difficult decisions to compete with the bigger teams."
The Hawks trailed 23-19 in the first quarter where both sides seemed to be trying to soothe their jangled nerves although the victors were guilty of committing more unforced errors.
They also seemed to be caught in the glare of the headlights, sluggish on the rebounds and, more critically, on defence to allow the Rams to score second-chance points.
Only Bowman and Rusbatch had got on a scoring run for the Hawks.
It seemed like the rib injury layoff on US import small forward EJ Singler had taken its toll as he found little love from the rim and had added to the turnovers tally into the second half.
The points were harder to come by in the second quarter but there were no points for guessing the Cantabrians were adroitly putting up the shutters to starve them of space and rob them of time to shoot although the hosts gave Bowman too much of a look in the first spell.
The Hawks snuck in 17-16 to trail 39-36 at halftime with Kenny singing the season anthem of not making smooth transitions and the Rams not allowing them to play their three-point game.
Canterbury were out shooting the Hawks in every aspect — 43 per cent to 36 in field goals, 40-26 per cent from downtown and 75-67 per cent from the charity line. They were also leading 23-19 in the rebounding department although the steals were even.
But the Hawks showed their intent in the third spell with a Rusbatch basket from the carpark to level 39-all.
Two minutes into the quarter, umpire Melony Wealleans enigmatically pinged Prewster for a foul on Tony Tolovae but it was a battering Ram who had used his forearm to surge forward with the ball. However, the Hawks swingman dropped a bomb with a swish to silence the home crowd with a 46-40 lead.
However, Bowman clutched his calf after a basket to call for timeout at the halfway mark for a quick rub down from physiotherapist Colin Tutchen but Coronel rested the American to roll out bench forward Darryl Jones.
Damningly the Cantabrians went up 49-48 soon after with their US import forward Isaiah Wilkins leading the defensive charge.
Oddly enough the rim kept spurning the visitors who had hit another patch of scoring drought and their prospects looked dimmer when a cramping Bowman grabbed his right knee again with a minute to go.
However, Singler made a basket to tie 52-all and drew a foul but failed to drop the one in closing the chapter, 16-13, in favour of the Hawks.
Both sides traded shots and wrestled with the lead but it was a Singler basket and a bomb from veteran Bartlett that had pushed the Hawks into a 62-57 lead, prompting Rams coach Mick Downer to call a timeout three minutes into the fourth quarter.
Noticeably, the Hawks' collective defensive effort had hit another gear as Canterbury kept coughing up the ball in the lane.
Three three-pointers - from Naar, Gliddon and ex-Hawks swingman Tolovae - saw the hosts pinch the lead 66-65 with three minutes to play. An agitated Coronel called a timeout to read the riot act on communicating on the court.
With a shade more than a minute remaining, Bowman claimed two decisive points from the free-throw line to make it 69-66 before denying Canterbury in transition but fell foul of the shot clock with 28s left at the offensive end. Downer called a timeout to plot "an open three".
It was Gliddon's turn to blow his gasket. Singler coerced him into committing a technical foul in stepping back over the attacking line.
Rusbatch drove two nails into the hearts of the booing hometown fans from the charity line and Prewster followed suit for a 71-68 lead with 12s remaining.
It was Coronel's final summit although you somehow got the impression it was more about refuelling the spiritual tank than mentoring.
Ironically a hobbling Bowman missed his two shots from the free-throw line but Rusbatch collected the rebound to count down the draining seconds for a 22-16 statement.
Coronel agreed it was imperative for other players to share the shooting load tomorrow but felt they had no choice but to rely on Bowman due to injuries to Singler and Boomer Daniel Kickert who left for Sydney before the playoffs.
He said budget constraints had limited their choices but the scheme had worked despite a spate of bad luck.
"We had among the worst injuries in the league but we still won 15 games and are in the finals so it's paid off in terms of the calibre of imports and the tremendous veteran Kiwi players we have as well as the way we have played technically."
Playing the big-budget franchises "normally" was out of the question, he said, thus the "unusual" way of playing.
"It could have gone poorly but it's obviously gone well."
Coronel agreed Singler was rusty but emphasised his basketball IQ was second to none.
"He's so smart so even when the time he's so rusty he's still going to be valuable to us with his intelligence."
Rusbatch scored 20 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double. Singler added 11 points and plucked eight off the boards while Kenny registered a triple seven of points, rebounds and assists.
The Hawks, he said, were thrilled for their teammates who had won accolades at the end-of-the-season awards last night.
Coronel said they were mindful individuals got the gongs because others around them did the hard yards to put them in that position to benefit.
"As outstanding as Tim Quarterman was, he's not going to get any awards if he doesn't get the support," he said of the 2019 league scoring champion.
2019 NBL AWARDS
The NBL had also toasted its outstanding performers, including five Hawks, at an awards night at the Christchurch Casino yesterday:
■ MVP: Nick Kay (Saints).
■ All-Star 5: Shea Ili (Saints), Cameron Gliddon (Rams), EJ Singler (Hawks), Nick Kay (Saints), Brandon Bowman (Hawks).
■ Most outstanding guard, Keith Carr Award: Gliddon.
■ Most outstanding NZ guard, John MacDonald Award: Shea Ili (Saints).
■ Most outstanding forward/centre, Commissioner's Award: Kay.
■ Most outstanding NZ forward/centre, Stan Hill Award: Rob Loe (Saints).
■ Coach of the year: Mick Downer (Rams).
■ Most improved player: Ethan Rusbatch (Hawks).
■ Best defensive player: Isaiah Wilkins (Rams).
■ Youth player of the year: Tyrell Harrison (Nelson Giants).
■ Fans' most popular player: Dom Kelman-Poto (Southland Sharks).
■ League scoring champion, Alan Bland Award: Tim Quarterman (Auckland Rangers).
■ League rebounding champion, Garry Pettis Award: Marcel Jones (Southern Huskies).
■ League assists champion, Dave Taylor Award: Jarrod Kenny (Hawks).
■ Golden hands: Kay.
■ Leading free-throw percentage: Alex Pledger (Sharks).
■ Leading 3pt percentage: Daniel Kickert (Hawks).
■ Referee of the year: Marty Davidson.
■ Team GM of the year: Julie Bensemann (Giants).
■ Best game presentation: Southland Sharks.
■ Best fan engagement: Rams.
■ Best social media: Sharks.