Championship-winning basketball teams always tend to proudly hang their hats on the cornerstone of defence despite the sterling efforts of a showman.

But then is that enough when you're up against perennial powerhouses Cigna Saints, who came from behind to beat Taylor Corporation Hawks 86-77 in Napier this afternoon.

The visitors trailed for the best part of the game before shifting gears in the fourth quarter of the final game of week seven of the Sal's National Basketball League match at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.

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Hawks coach Zico Coronel's men stepped on to the court to gauge their worth in the quest of making the Final Four playoffs this winter and they got a decent report card back.

Yes, they lost three times to the Saints - twice one the road and now at home - but today's result showed they are capable of competing with the league leaders' might, albeit on the road if they end up facing them.

The absence of Australian import centre Angus Brandt and shooting guard Everard Bartlett was obvious as the Hawks lost their first game at home this season - but with all the hands on deck anything will be possible come playoffs.

NBL trials-bound point guard Shea Ili had a match-high 28 points for the victors and deserved his man-of-the-match award.

Majok Majok finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds while fellow import forward LJ Peak added 14 to their cause.

For the Hawks, captain Jarrod Kenny led the way with a double-double 18 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

Mitchell Newton contributed 13 points, United States import Jamie Skeen added 12 and seven rebounds while Dion Prewster chimed in with 11 points.

The Saints got stuck in from the tip off, chalking up six points courtesy of forward Peak before Kenny claimed his side's first basket.

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However, by the five-minute mark the Hawks had shot ahead 12-9, prompting Saints coach Kevin Braswell to call a timeout with the hosts 19-9 up and 3:58 left on the clock.

The pep talk worked as the visitors found some mojo to inject some respectability in opening quarter which favoured the Hawks 26-22.

Point guard Kenny led the home charge with 12 points while Saints counterpart Ili wasn't far behind on eight. Peak and fellow import Majok supported.

In the second quarter, Skeen and Newton joined the party for the Hawks.

Braswell howled halfway through the quarter as the Hawks put up the storm shutters, forcing the Saints to commit a shot-clock violation.

That only spurred on the defending champions, who made some serious ground with 3:53 left on the clock. Ili dropped one from outside the arc to put the Saints ahead again 38-37, albeit momentarily.

The Hawks had snatched back the lead 39-38 from the charity line before the game stopped briefly because of shot clock issues.

When play resumed the scores were level at 39-39 and the Saints again fell foul of the shot clock with some resolute defence as Benny Anthony, not playing but on the bench in mufti, vented his spleen and Braswell shook his head in frustration.

With 50 seconds remaining and timeout called, the quarter ended with drama as Ili dropped another from the carpark. But veteran forward Kareem Johnson, who had just run on to the court with Skeen, beat the buzzer for a basket to ensure the Hawks kept a marginal lead, 44-43, as the players headed for the locker rooms, although the Saints won that spell 21-18.

Hawks swingman Hyrum Harris Taylor drives for a basket with Saints forward Shane Temara breathing down his neck at the PG Arena, Napier, today. Poto/Photosport
Hawks swingman Hyrum Harris Taylor drives for a basket with Saints forward Shane Temara breathing down his neck at the PG Arena, Napier, today. Poto/Photosport

For the Hawks, Hyrum Harris made an impact off the bench with nine points.

The rebounding was more a co-operative project with Skeen, Harris, Ethan Rusbatch and Newton backing up Kenny on four.

For the Leon Henry-captained Saints, Shaun Bruce added three points and collected three off the boards to help Ili, Peak and Majok spearhead the drive.

Majok had already claimed a double-double 13 points and 10 rebounds.

The halftime statistics were pretty even although the Saints had a 10-5 lead on assists while the Hawks had an 11-3 advantage on points off the bench.

The third quarter was a tit-for-tat one but as the seconds ran out with two minutes left, Braswell had no choice but to call another timeout with Hawks leading 65-58.

Henry had earlier become agitated, pushing a Prewster basket back up the rim and then blatantly whacking Skeen's wrist as he lined up for a three-pointer but the officials were on to his antics.

It didn't help despite Anthony urging his teammates to put up their arms in defence.

Hawks swingman Ethan Rusbatch (right) tries to find the rim with Saints import LJ Peak putting in a block in Napier today. Photo/Photosport
Hawks swingman Ethan Rusbatch (right) tries to find the rim with Saints import LJ Peak putting in a block in Napier today. Photo/Photosport

The crowd went wild with a Rusbatch three-pointer and Majok lost the ball cold with the Hawks closing the account 71-63 after Harris flattened Bruce. It ironically ended as the hosts' spell, 27-20.

As expected, the Wellingtonians hit back in the final quarter, clawing their way back to reduce the deficit to 73-71 with 5:39 left on the clock.

It was Coronel's turn to call timeouts as the Saints reclaimed the lead 76-73 3:47 minutes remaining.

The Hawks found little love with the rim but the Saints dropped shots at will from just about anywhere to finish with a don't-argue 23-6 spell.