They lost but if there were any doubts on whether the Hawks were Final Four material then the way they signed off their season yesterday is an affirmation.
The Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawke's Bay lost 89-86 to the SIT Zerofees Sharks in Invercargill to show they certainly had the right ingredients to foot it with the best in the National Basketball League but, for whatever reasons, didn't realise that potential.
The Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett co-skippered Hawks avoided consecutive wooden spoons to finish fifth on the NBL standings with four victories following a winless winter of despair under former coach Kirstin Daly-Taylor last year.
A frustrated Daly-Taylor had stepped down suddenly in April with franchise board member and former Tall Black Benny Hill assuming the mantle of caretaker coach and enlisting the help of assistants Clifton Bush II and Kaine Hokianga.
Hill last night said the Hawks played in patches although both sides claimed two quarters each - (Sharks first) 20-17, 23-25, 24-20, 22-24 - at the ILT Stadium.
"We broke down in the last minute and that was the turning point so it was terrible and inconsistent."
Their effort against the second-placed Sharks in many respects mirrored the 98-90 loss to the top-placed Wellington Saints in Napier two weekends ago in the final game at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.
Frankly no one looks like beating defending champions Wellington who created history on Saturday when they beat the Nelson Giants to become the first franchise to remain undefeated in a season since the NBL's inception in 1982 although their winning streak of 22 games goes back to late last season.
The Kevin Braswell-coached juggernauts play the fourth-placed Canterbury Rams in one semifinal while the Sharks play James Blond Supercity Rangers in the Final Four in Tauranga.
Yesterday, two Sharks claimed double-doubles - Nick Kay scored 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Tall Blacks centre Alex Pledger added 10 points and collected 17 off the glass for the victors' 12-6 record.
Coach Judd Flavell and his men might argue they had to dig deep to lift themselves for a dead rubber considering they had already secured their semifinal berth but the Hawks' spirited latent revival should be acknowledged and lauded in the same breath.
Kenny left his best until the last game, perhaps releasing the pent-up tension to muster 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
"He shot the ball amazingly well. It's probably the first time I saw him shoot the ball the way he should be. When he shoots that ball it goes in and he practises that on a daily basis," said Hill of the Tall Black point guard who nailed four from seven from downtown and was instrumental in jump starting the Hawks' ticker from a flatliner situation as they trailed by 10 points in the third spell.
Amir Williams again kept his double-double habit going with 13 points and 16 rebounds although Hill remained adamant he expected the US import centre to flirt with the 20-20 mark.
Shooting guard Bartlett was at his rim-smooching best with 17 points in 36 minutes of court time while swingmen Joshua Fox and Tony Tolovae added 11 and 10, respectively, to the collective cause.
Tolovae tripped on the foul wire early in the game and Williams joined him, prompting Hill to resort to damage control and using them wisely off the bench.
"I think the foul count on the court was ridiculous. It was like 9-1 or something like that at one stage so, yeah, it is an issue," said Hill.
The Hawks played catch-up basketball for a lion's share of the game and only led twice with a two-point margin compared with the Sharks' biggest margin of 10.
The statistic that stood out like a sore thumb was the bench - the Sharks won that resoundingly, 36-9.
US import Kareem Johnson scored six points and Anamata Haku three in 16 and 10 minutes, respectively.
"He [Johnson] was physical and laid people out, when need be," he said of the power forward who was recovering from food poisoning.
Darryl Jones managed two minutes but Hill said he had only returned from injury and one shouldn't expect miracles from him.
Hill intends to meet his players individually for a debriefing and await a board decision on his tenure.