The slam dunk had come well before the National Basketball League game had tipped off in Napier tonight.

The news was Australian import centre Daniel Kickert was catching a flight back home on Monday morning because he couldn't shrug off his niggly back injury, not that too many Taylor Corporation Hawks fans would have known that unless they had visited the Basketball New Zealand website an hour before the 7pm start.

So what can the Pettigrew-Green Arena faithful make of the 99-74 loss to perennial favourites Wellington Saints in the round-11 match tonight?

For one, the capacity crowd, clapping and cheering well after the halftime entertainment, brought back fond memories of how the arena used to hum to the Hawks' previous campaigns when Saints coach Paul Henare was in the mix as a player and captain.

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The verdict is crystal clear — build a fortress on the foundation of a thriving culture and they'll come in droves so one box ticked off on the Hawke's Bay franchise mission statement.

Will the Jarrod Kenny-skippered Hawks need another hybrid big man?

Absolutely if the carnage Rob Loe, Thomas Abercrombie and Nicholas Kay were causing but whether the franchise will with three rounds to go from the Final Four in Christchurch next month remains to be seen.

"I mean, obviously, a Daniel Kickert would help but, I think, with the guys we have right now we have a good enough team to beat anyone in the league," said American import small forward EJ Singler after claiming a double-double 25 points and a dozen rebounds, 11 of them defensively.

"We know what we've got to do in the coming months to get ready for the playoffs and just to continue to work the system every day to get better."

The Hawks trailed 13-19 in the first quarter and 27-30 (40-49) in the second spell as the visitors went on to extend their winning streak to 14 on the trot, halting the hosts' run at eight.

Frankly, the three-point plan wasn't so airtight with Singler, on nine points in the first spell, the only one to score from outside the arc but captain Jordan Ngatai and his men were ruffling a few feathers in their full-court press to deprive the hosts time and space to find their mojo in shooting.

"Obviously the three-ball is one of our big advantages we use but we knew they were coming in big and physical and they were going to make us do something we're not as good as so we need to stay on course and do what we do best," Singler said.

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Whatever coach Zico Coronel said at halftime worked because the hosts came out firing on all cylinders to close the deficit smartly.

Unusually dormant on the scoreboard, power forward Brandon Bowman and Tall Blacks hopeful Ethan Rusbatch contributed seven points each in the second quarter with veteran Everard Bartlett emulating them.

Henare wasn't happy with his little general, Shae Ili, eventually calling him for a korero in the third quarter, during a free-throw lull, after throwing up his arms in despair a few times in the second spell.

Ili, feeling the pressure, complained to referee Duran Whiu that Singler had it in for him before Henare got into his ear, too.

The quarter ended 22-all.

Wellington Saints coach Paul Henare drives his point home to a referee in the round 11 match against the Hawks at the PG Arena, Napier, tonight. Photo/Photosport
Wellington Saints coach Paul Henare drives his point home to a referee in the round 11 match against the Hawks at the PG Arena, Napier, tonight. Photo/Photosport

Just before the halfway stage of the final quarter, Bowman was bent over spluttering before Loe worked him down to the floor. The US import found no love from the rim from his two attempts on the charity line.

However, Bowman set a great example with three minutes left when he took an unsuccessful shot from the carpark before motoring through the driving lane to not just regather the ball but draw a foul from Abercrombie.

Rebounding, as it has been for the best part of the season, seems to be a lost art for the Hawks, bar Singler and Bowman who added 14 points but fell one shy of the boards to register a double-double.

Collectively the Saints won the rebounding game 55-37. They went on a 14-point blitz and the best the Hawks could manage was a seven-point one in a game where the lead changed only twice and the city slickers held the advantage for 35 minutes compared to the hosts' 2:35m.

Singler agreed rebounding was a huge part of basketball and felt the Wellingtonians had outplayed them in that facet despite not knowing what the statistics was.

"It led to Rob Loe getting a lot of second-chance points so we've just got to box out and be a lot more physical," he said, revealing that would be high on their agenda during scrimmages.

Hawks small forward EJ Singler has no qualms about taking on Wellington Saints centre Rob Loe for a rebound in their NBL encounter at PG Arena, Napier, tonight. Photo/Photosport
Hawks small forward EJ Singler has no qualms about taking on Wellington Saints centre Rob Loe for a rebound in their NBL encounter at PG Arena, Napier, tonight. Photo/Photosport

The 28-year-old from Medford, Oregon, who is an MVP contender after a superb run in the NBL, reiterated he didn't care about his individual performances.

"All I care about is winning and we lost tonight so I'm not too happy about it," he said.

The game gone, Coronel had rolled out his bench boys with three minutes remaining, much to the delight of the crowd. A beaming Henare shook hands with his stablemates.

Kenny scored 10 points while Rusbatch contributed just nine and two steals to boot. Kay scored 16 points and Ili 13 while Ngatai contributed 12 points and claimed nine rebounds.

Loe, who took the floor for 28 minutes, claimed a game-high 26 points and collected nine rebounds to show his worth while Abercrombie joined the double-double club with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

The Wellington centre said they were happy with their execution and would take that momentum into the 5pm tip off in hosting the Canterbury Rams tomorrow.

"We like to play the full 40 minutes, you know, because teams can play well into halftime and three-quarter time but we like to pressure to put teams under a lot of heat all the way through."

Loe said with Kickert out he was matched up against Bowman but agreed the Hawks lacked some size although the Saints had stuck with their game plan.

"It was an awesome crowd tonight and they [Hawks] deserve that support this year," he said.

The Hawks host the Southland Sharks on Saturday next week but the litmus test will come against the Rams, who hang their hats on the cornerstone of defence, on Thursday, July 11. They will then catch a flight to Australia to play the Huskies two days later.

As always, Hawks skipper Jarrod Kenny and his troops took time out for the PG Arena faithful who came out in droves for a capacity attendance tonight. Photo/Photosport
As always, Hawks skipper Jarrod Kenny and his troops took time out for the PG Arena faithful who came out in droves for a capacity attendance tonight. Photo/Photosport