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 yesterday.
The visitors trailed for the best part of the game before shifting gears in the fourth quarter of the final match of week seven of the Sal's National Basketball League at Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.
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 have lost three times to the Saints — twice on the road and now at home — but yesterday's result showed they are capable of competing with the league leaders' might, albeit away from home if they end up facing them.
The absences of Australian import centre Angus Brandt and shooting guard Everard Bartlett were obvious as the Hawks lost their first game at home this season — but with all 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 quarters tell the story (Hawks first): 26-22, 44-43 (18-21), 71-63 (27-20) 86-77 (6-23).
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.
Kenny lamented a slow start but was happy with the way his troops clawed their way back into the spell.
"I think we showed good energy and intensity. For us to be professional we needed to play the entire 40 minutes," he said.
He felt the Hawks didn't have enough bodies on the defensive rebounds that saw Wellington snaffle second and third chances which slowly shut the oxygen in the hosts' showdown.
Kenny said the Hawks had a few mismatches defensively but, on the flip side, the visitors were also having difficulties getting organised on the offensive end so the hosts had tried to exploit that.
"We kept it on the rims, which was a positive, but may be we forced a few too many that rolled out in the end there," he said. "That's basketball so you've just got to keep working hard [this] week and then come back at the weekend," he said as the Hawks host the last-placed 2 Cheap Cars Supercity Rangers.
The Tall Black said they missed quality duo Brandt and Bartlett but wasn't going to use that as an excuse because they had spoken all year about the value depth could add.
However, Newton had slotted into the starting five with aplomb and Hyrum Harris had come off the bench with purpose to take ownership although Saints skipper Leon Henry had offered him some advice in the final quarter after a block on the swingman's basket attempt, he said.
"We had people ready to come on to make the most of the opportunities."
Kenny agreed it was never easy beating Wellington, who have secured the top rung on the NBL ladder with an 8-1 record.
However, the Hawks have played the Saints three times, Mike Pero Nelson Giants twice and SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks as many times.
"We have played the majority of the top four teams so we're in a position to take advantage of a home run of the rest of the league.
"If we make the most of them we'll certainly be in a good spot at the end of the season."
The fifth-placed Hawks have hit the 50 per cent mark with five wins and as many losses.
After the Rangers, they host the Augusta Taranaki Mountainairs the following Saturday before heading to the Big Smoke to reload against the Rangers on Saturday, July 7, before returning to the PG Arena to host Wheeler Motor Canterbury Rams on Thursday, July 12.
Kenny said Saints point guard Ili was a tough cover but with what the Hawks were trying to achieve defensively something had to give and his opposite's statistics were one of the sacrifices.
"We'll just have to keep working and keep getting better every day."