Everything suggested the final National Basketball League game between the Hawks and the Canterbury Rams in Napier tonight was going to be a farewell for the boys to the playoffs in Christchurch in a fortnight.
The televised, round 14 encounter started with a welcome from the Kahurangi Maori Dance Company and finished with the Pettigrew-Green Arena faithful giving the Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawke's Bay franchise team a standing ovation to the tune of Kool & The Gang's Celebration.
With five minutes to go in the match, Hawkeye, the booty-shaking mascot, held up the proceedings in the final quarter much to the amusement of fans flirting with the TV cameras.
However, how the first semifinal of the Final Four plays out between the two sides at the Horncastle Arena in the Garden City on July 20 remains to be seen but what can anyone take from the PG Arena when nothing is riding on a game that the hosts won 77-71.
Hawks captain Jarrod Kenny was on the button with a match-high 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists but then you come to expect that from the Tall Blacks point guard at the juncture of the NBL campaign. Ditto Ethan Rusbatch who claimed a double-double 15 points and collected 10 off the boards.
It came as no surprise that small forward EJ Singler was clad in mufti and parked on the substitutes' bench.
Workhorse Singler, fellow US import power forward Brandon Bowman, Kenny and swingmen Rusbatch and Dion Prewster won't be catching the Hawks' flight to Tasmania to play their final game against Australian newcomers Huskies on Saturday night.
What was reassuring though was veteran shooting guard Everard Bartlett finding his mojo with 17 points from 25 minutes of court time from the bench and a 50 per cent three-point returns.
But it was a match where the statistics resembled a turbulent day of frenzied trading of the Dow Jones index on the New York Stock Exchange. Even something as symptomatic as rebounding could become difficult to analyse.
The Hawks led 26-18 in the first quarter but had a smoko break in the second, 12-23 (38-41), to allow the Emmett Naar-captained Rams back into the game. The third had a storm shutter look about it in the hosts' favour, 19-14 (57-55).
The final fling was a crowd pleaser. With three minutes left on the clock Kenny dropped one from downtown to make it 76-all but that was changed in the blink of an eye from two steals on defence as the Hawks went up 71-67. The hosts clocked out 20-16.
Bartlett had raised the roof in the helter skelter with a three-pointer on the top of the D as Canterbury forward Isaiah Wilkins came charging out at him like a banshee. The American import ran into empty chairs on the Rams' bench in front of the corporate tables before cussing and kicking a chair on his way back on to the court. He had stopped to apologise to just about everyone as the dying minutes drained from the clock.
"I'm feeling good," said a grinning Bartlett who had also received an apology from Wilkins. "It was a big day for us looking forward to next week because they're the team we're playing in the semis."
The 32-year-old former Tall Black from Hastings said Rusbatch had played No 4 at times in Singler's absence but felt, overall, everyone had punched out their cards after a decent shift.
Bartlett agreed Rams coach Mick Downer, akin to Hawks counterpart Zico Coronel, was going to keep his hand of cards close to his chest for the playoffs but for the hosts it was about dragging Big Mo to their corner.
He said with the starting five not travelling to Tassy it was an opportune time for the bench boys to put to use all that time invested in scrimmages in the off season.
"I think it's a bit of a payment for them to showcase what they can do."
Perhaps what peaks the interest is how the players measured up on the spirit level of the officials.
Senior NBL whistle blower Melony Wealleans, with the backing of umpires Hamish Dale and Rhys Hamilton, had pinged players on both sides.
The "who-what?" look is a given for the most part of the season but did it worry the players with the Final Four around the corner?
"We can't be talking too much about the officials because they'll do what they do so at the end of the day if they make a call that's what it is," Bartlett said. "We have to move on to pick up the next play."
He said all they could do was seek advice from the umpires on what the players could do to iron out creases in their template.
Wilkins echoed Bartlett's sentiments, emphasising the officials were human and prone to errors but were doing a fine job this winter.
Hawks board chairman Keith Price had at halftime presented a plaque to Bay referee Apai Apai for having officiated 100 NBL games.
Wilkins said the visitors had taken tonight's encounter seriously and felt they had a lot to work on despite beating a gestating Hawks earlier in the season in Christchurch.
"We have to guard one on one," said the 23-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, after accruing 25 minutes. "We have got to pick up our rebounding but, you know, we have to give them some credit because they are one hell of a team."
Wilkins said the Rams had no control over how the Hawks had shuffled their pack during the match but felt the Cantabrians needed to lift their defensive game.
Bowman added to his double-double tally with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
For the Rams, Cameron Gliddon scored 15 points and claimed eight off the board while Naar added 14 points to the cause.
Former Hawks guards Luke Ashton and Tony Tolovae contributed seven points each but you somehow got the impression they were trying not to peak tonight.
Kiwi NBL teams who have boarded multiple flights to Launceston have dubbed the away trip as the "Tassie Curse".
Injured Hawk James Levings will travel as coach in place of Coronel and assistant coach Morgan Maskell who will remain with their starting five here.
Coronel told NBL with the playoff positions unlikely to change they had deemed it prudent to send a development squad to Launceston to enable their heavy-minute players to recover for the Final Four.
Levings had made a request from his hospital bed to mentor the second-string Hawks shortly after dislocating his ankle during practice.
"James quite simply wanted to continue to contribute anyway he could and, with a promising future as a coach, he will be of great value in this endeavour," Coronel said.
NBL general manager Justin Nelson said while the Hawks' stance wasn't ideal, it was within the rules and understandable why they were doing it.
However Nelson said the NBL was drafting new rules to ensure that wouldn't happen again.
"I think there are a mixture of things that have led to the Hawks making this decision, such as the schedule, the uneven nature of the competition and the rules that at the moment allow for this sort of thing to occur. They have done nothing wrong whatsoever," he said.
Nelson said work was under way "behind the scenes" to maintain a competitive edge to the NBL to prevent a "two-speed league". The impending new rules will prevent teams from playing away games with fewer than nine players.
"The Hawks have done nothing outside the rules and I dare say that any other team in their situation would do the same but that doesn't mean it won't be fixed, because it will," Nelson said.
"To have the Huskies finish the season with their last two home games played against extremely understrength opponents is not want we want to see and tighter rules are on the way."
Hawks to Tassy:
Nick Fee (guard), Everard Bartlett (guard), Jamal Mikaio (forward), Darryl Jones (forward), Clifton Bush III (forward).
Bench: Dominic McGovan (guard), Ryan Laumatia (guard), Jacob Nahora (forward).
Coach: James Levings.
Manager: Kerry Raynor.