Hawks 86, Giants 83
SILLY season, that's what you've got to put it down to after last night's nail-biting 86-83 victory in Napier.
It's one more dead rubber for the HBS Bank Hawks on Friday, July 8, before the heat, mixed with myriad emotions in the court of contention, starts making the boys in the oversized three-quarter shorts dizzy with euphoria.
All the psychobabble about cohesiveness, physicality and mental fortitude will be passed off as frivolous incantations in the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL), especially for the high flyers.
Not out of the bramble bush just yet, the Giants will want to cement a home quarter-final.
But let's face it, with eight teams fancying their chances of making the cut few of the middle dwellers on the NBL table will lose sleep if they don't get to thump their chests on their home turf.
Having secured a home quarter-final against the yet-to-be-determined No 6 qualifiers in Napier on Tuesday, July 12, the Paul Henare-coached Hawks have earned the luxury of copious amount of time to fine-tune the little things in a bid to claim the NBL bragging rights for only the second time in the franchise's history.
Sure, in Henare and every other coaches' mantra of not wanting to get too far ahead of themselves the mind games will prevail.
But the yawning gaps between now and the play-offs next month will perhaps be a bigger test for Jarrod Kenny's men to keep chewing cud.
If the remaining games are scrimmages, then last night's octane-filled encounter showed the Hawks can go all the way if they want to.
The first quarter was exhilarating with the Hawks claiming it 18-16 at the 70 per cent packed Pettigrew-Green Arena, in Taradale.
Swingman Chris Daniel, American import power forward Galen Young and guard Paora Winitana set the tone with successive three pointers as the Giants were reduced to chasing shadows.
A Morgan Natanahira brush with Giants strongman Mika Vukona with 2min 23sec left on the clock as a foul was perhaps the only abberration.
The second quarter belonged to the Giants, coming back strongly 26-18 to go into the changing room 42-36.
The Hawks again started strongly, stretching their lead to 27-17 in just two minutes before a Kenny air pass and a foul saw the visitors claw their way back to 27-24 with 6:42 left on the clock.
Unfortunately other mistakes also crept in, as Vukona stole the ball off forward Benny Hill to change the momentum.
His tail up, Vukona created havoc with forward Rod Grizzard and Phill Jones to rustle up valuable points. In the locker room, an injured Josh Pace emphasised how the Hawks had laid the platform to push ahead but failed to capitalise.
"Push the ball first and then make the run.
"Why are you holding the ball?" a frustrated Pace asked, adding they needed to crash the boards on rebounds rather than watch.
Not amused, Henare drew attention to how they had gifted 12 points to Nelson in transition.
"We have nine turnovers. It's the same as last week - all unforced errors," he said, after the Hawks' abysmal first-half display against the Wellington Saints last Saturday night before succumbing 84-80 in overtime.
"Mika didn't steal that ball, you guys just gave it to him.
"They aren't out-smarting us, they are simply putting their heads down and going for it," Henare barked, adding the 16-3 free-throw count against the Hawks wasn't because of any skulduggery from referees Tim Brown, Apai Apai and Shane Nikora but simply a snapshot of the players' mindset.
"There's no talk ... we're stuck on concrete."
Pace said there were too many "blow-bys" (driving past a defender), something Henare echoed with "way too many" before adding defence was supposed to be the Hawks' strength.
The Hawks responded in the third quarter with Winitana winning a floor wrestle and Arthur Trousdell stole as the Giants tripped on the shot-clock violation zone.
Suddenly the Hawks showed urgency, driving into the shell-shocked Nelson players, milking free throws and points at will for a don't-argue 31-21 (77-63) lead.
On one end Daniel sunk a three-pointer to raise the roof, while on the other end Jones and US import Daryl Dora emulated the Hawks' feat to silence the vociferous crowd.
Winitana took on Vukona at his own game and energiser bunny Aidan Daly was an inspiration every time he came off the bench.
In the final quarter, young Natanahira muscled in, Winitana defied gravity to keep the ball in play and a pint-sized veteran point guard Daly didn't let a grizzly Grizzard intimidate him as he threaded in and out of the shooting lane to distribute passes.
The crowd whistled, booed and jeered the whistle blowers and opposition players as the Hawks shot to a 76-66 lead.
Henare looked over his shoulder, winked and grinned at Nelson counterpart Chris Tupu, who was threading worry beads.
With 19 seconds left, Vukona drew a foul as the visitors trailed 84-79. Nelson closed the gap to 84-81 and then 85-83 with nine to go but Winitana drew a rash of fouls to close out the victory despite the Giants winning the spell 20-19, as Daly befittingly counted down the clock.
Winitana had a double-double with a game-high 24 points, 13 rebounds and four assists while Kenny (14 points), Trousdell (13 + seven rebounds), Daniel (11), Young (10) and Natanahira six rebounds showed it was a team effort.
If anything, the statistics dispel any myths that may be floating around on how heavily the Hawks rely on Pace.
Hawks 86, Giants 83