PRIOR to Saturday’s loss to Melbourne, a one-point defeat to Cairns in their season-opener shaped as the game that could really come back to haunt the Hawks.
Now, if they just miss out on a playoffs spot at season’s end, it’s the three-minute fade out against United that looms as season-defining.
The Hawks were well in command of both clashes only to let them slip down the stretch. In such a tightly contested competition, losses of that kind can really burn.
They also prompt suggestions that Illawarra struggle to get it done in close games, but it’s a case of perception more than reality.
They went down to Sydney in overtime in round four but avenged that in the same fashion in round seven. They also edged out Cairns at home by four points two weeks ago.
Like Melbourne did to them on Saturday, the Hawks have also overcome large deficits against Adelaide and Sydney this season and in memorable fashion against Perth three weeks ago.
It doesn’t show an inability to close out games, what it does reveal is an at times costly tendency to drift in and out of contests.
Against Perth in Perth in round two, they led by six points at halftime before producing just seven points in the third term to ultimately go down by 10 points.
In their first match against Melbourne in round eight, they trailed by just two at the half before getting blown out by 17 after producing just eight points in the third stanza.
Had their conversion rate been better in just half of those games, they’d be traveling better than 8-10. Coach Rob Beveridge admitted as much in the aftermath to the Melbourne loss on Saturday.
“That’s the whole thing, at times we’re only playing 20 minutes of basketball, sometimes we’ve taken it up to 25-30,” Beveridge said.
“[Saturday night] was pretty good. We were in the 30s in the amount of minutes we competed for but it just shows that, if you’re not committed for 40 minutes against any team in this league, you’ll lose the game.
“In the end that’s exactly what happened.”
It’s the most marked contrast to the Hawks efforts last season, where they got in the grind as well as any team in the league.
Interestingly enough, it’s a quality that Melbourne seem to have brought into their game in a six-game win streak. United have always been considered long on talent short on toughness.
It’s been a fair analysis in recent seasons, but their win over Illawarra, overturning an 18-point deficit, showed a level of mental strength they have not exhibited in the past.
They got over the line in similar circumstances against Brisbane on Boxing Day, not taking the lead until the the 37th minute.
“It certainly builds character within this group,” Vickerman said.
“It’s always good having that in the bank, that you can recall, whatever situation you get in, whether your 15 down, 13 down, you’ve had the ability to come back on the road.
“It gives you that extra confidence to know that you’re never out of a game and I loved the way they closed that one out.”