It may have been a latent effect but a meeting with a psychologist last week may have helped the hapless Hawks break out of their emotional cocoon at the weekend.
After the 98-90 loss to the Wellington Saints in the last National Basketball League (NBL) at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, on Saturday night caretaker coach Benny Hill revealed industrial-organisational psychologist Wanda Douglas had been brought in. Douglas had a session with the Taylor Corporation-sponsored franchise team who are last in this season's standings after coming in as wooden spooners from the previous year.
"She talked to us on Wednesday so I thought Thursday's game could have been all right - no show," said Hill of Douglas who also offers mental skills to the Hawke's Bay Magpies and the rugby union's academy.
"Today with the last home game, obviously, everyone was hyped up," he said after the Hawks revealed a level of passion and commitment that wasn't so prevalent in their previous outings at home.
The team had adopted a slogan of: "Why not us?"
Out of the NBL Final Four playoffs a few matches ago, the expectation is for the players to carry that momentum into the remaining two games on the road - Taranaki Mountainairs this Friday in New Plymouth and signing off against SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks in Invercargill.
"They all showed up today. It's definitely a different team to the one we had on Thursday night, that's for sure," said Hill, after the previous frustrating 98-85 loss to James Blond Supercity Rangers in the round 12 match in Auckland.
"Yeah, it comes down to heart and pride and they had it tonight."
He had conducted one-on-one chats with the players on Friday and a decent scrimmage on match day.
"Overall, it comes down to them wanting to play the game."
Hill said the Hawks had created the chance to inflict the first defeat on the undefeated, defending champions Saints but ran out of steam a little in the final two quarters.
"They were playing too many hero balls, as I like to say it."
Poring over the match statistics, Hill said double-double merchant Amir Williams' 13 points and 15 off the glass were more like what he should be posting religiously.
"Wellington were always going to make a run in those final two quarters because that's who they are, really," he said, singling out Tai Wesley's game-high 27 points and 11 rebounds, captain Corey Webster's 26 points, import Joshua Duinker and Shea Ili's 15 each.
"That's the core of their starting five."
While the Hawks had a balanced scoring five - Williams, swingman Tony Tolovae top scored with 19 points while co-skippers Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett added 18 and 17, respectively, Anamata Haku contributed 12 - he was pleased the bench mustered 20 points.
He noted his men dropped bombs from the carpark in the first half but that became "non-existent" in the second.
"I see the turnovers killed us as well - we had 12 they had five," he said, acknowledging the Saints had crept in like thieves in the night to claim 6-2 steals.
Hill felt the Hawks had had looks at the rim but failed to lock them down.
"But, overall, I thought it was a really good effort from games this year, probably on a par with the win against [Rangers] when I first took over," said the former Tall Black and Hawks franchise board member who assumed the mantle of caretaker coach when former Tall Fern Kirstin Daly-Taylor suddenly stepped down in April.
She was a spectator for th first time on Saturday since handing in her resignation.
"I'm actually quite proud of the guys because they showed up."
Hill said the Mountainairs and Sharks were both beatable but cautioned he had been bitten often enough to be shy, despite three wins, to know it could come down to tossing a coin to figure out which Hawks would turn up any given game.
"That's the $400 question but today I can't praise them any more," he said, thanking the loyal fans during rough times.
Hawks figures first:
■ Field goals: 32/77 (42%); 38/74 (51%).
■ 3 pointers: 12/27 (44%); 3/14 (21%).
■ Free throws: 14/23 (61%); 19/26 (73%).
■ Rebounds: 40; 44.
■ Assists: 15; 17.
■ Steals: 2; 6.
■ Blocks: 2; 2.
■ Turnovers: 12/5.
■ Fouls (fouls on): 22 (18); 18 (20).
■ Points in the paint: 28; 60.
■ 2nd chance pts: 15; 15.
■ Pts off turnovers: 5; 15.
■ Pts off bench: 20; 11.
Result: Taylor Corporation Hawks 90 (Tony Tolovae 19pts; Jarrod Kenny 18pts, 4 asts; Everard Bartlett 17pts, 6 reb; Amir Williams 13pts, 15 reb) Wellington Saints 98 (Tai Wesley 27pts, 11reb; Corey Webster 26pts, 7 reb, 5 asts; Shea Ili 15pts, 6 reb; Josh Duinker 15pts, 7 reb).
Quarters (Hawks first), 1st: 29-28. 2nd: 54-53 (25-25). 3rd: 71-75 (17-22). Final: 90-98 (19-23).
- Fiba live scoring