IT was far from ideal, but Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian found a silver lining to a COVID-enforced layoff in the small-ball line-up that proved a game-changer against the Kings on Thursday night.
Trailing at three-quarter-time, Goorjian played Sam Froling as the lone big with wings Tyler Harvey, Justinian Jessup and Antonius Cleveland for the entire fourth term on Thursday.
Point-guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes was also not subbed out as the Hawks produced a 22-11 fourth quarter to seal a 97-89 win over their arch-rivals in their first game in just shy of a month.
It followed four postponements, with Goorjian saying the the line-up experiment was a product of the surplus time on the practice floor.
"We were asking 'what can we do in this window?' because we had the opportunity to try some things," Goorjian said.
"The four small guys with Sam or Duop was something we got an opportunity to work on. We'd never played the small line-up in the [previous] four games so that line-up was new and played really well together.
"It's a more talented team [than last season] and we've just got more avenues offensively than we did last year. The complication for me is line-ups playing together, substitution patterns.
"I know [one] group plays well together, the other is an experiment and the only way we're going to get better at that is when time goes on. We fell behind in all these games, going into the fourth quarter we've usually been behind, and you've just got to tighten the line-up."
Rathan-Mayes had 16 of the bench's 25 points in just short of 27 minutes, while Harry Froling had a highly efficient seven points and five rebounds in just nine minutes.
Skipper AJ Ogilvy (02.49) and Tim Coenraad (08.45) were used sparingly, and Isaac White not at all, but Goorjian said the drip-feed won't be the approach moving forward.
"I still haven't got to the depth in the rotations yet," he said.
"With that 25-day break my mindset coming into the game was that I was going to handle things a little differently.
"Harry was great in the Brisbane game, he is coming and he needs more opportunity. I think we're going to get a lot more out of AJ, a lot more opportunity for Isaac [White], more out of Tim Coenraad.
"It's just the fact the games have been tight and we haven't been able to go there. We've been trying to get these [starting] guys comfortable together."
The Hawks face a tough next-up task against Melbourne United in Wollongong on Sunday, a belated meeting after their initial clash was postponed last round.
The defending champs are the only team to have built any sort of momentum through a month of COVID chaos but, after more than enough idle time, the Hawks are relishing a short turnaround.
"You're certainly not going hear anyone, players, coaches or fans, complaining about games coming too quick," Goorjian said.
"It's nice to get one [win] under our belt and I think Melbourne, leading into this break, were playing the best basketball of any team in the competition.
"We actually spent a lot of time preparing for Melbourne because we thought that was our next game. They were on a real run playing both ends of the floor, and beating good teams.
"It's going to be a real challenge but we're really excited about playing again at home."