They had their feathers ruffled but the undefeated Hawks are still flying high after Tyler Harvey inspired a 90-82 NBL win over the Brisbane Bullets on Thursday night.
Sharp-shooting guard Harvey had a game-high 31 points at Nissan Arena as the Hawks overcame a physical Bullets to extend their unbeaten season start with a third straight win - all on the road.
Last season's wooden spooners, the Hawks could only manage five wins in 2020, finishing the year with 10 straight losses.
However, after a name change, new ownership and string of signings - most importantly master coach Brian Goorjian - the Hawks appear to be the real deal in 2021.
Indeed six-time championship-winning mentor Goorjian - back in the NBL after 11 seasons in China - believed his Wollongong-based side had already earned the right to reclaim their former name Illawarra Hawks.
The Hawks' 3-0 season start is the best in the foundation club's history.
Under the NBL agreement with the new owners unveiled in June 2020, the team was re-named the Hawks in an effort to broaden their appeal in NSW.
"I spoke to my father this week and he has been following this and he said to me 'why the heck aren't you guys Illawarra?'," Goorjian said.
"(He said) 'you don't play like Hawks, you play like Illawarra.
"I have been thinking about it, these guys have earned that right - they are Illawarra.
"That community is special. It's time. We want to come back and fill that stadium and hear 'Illawarra, Illawarra'."
The Hawks appeared vulnerable in their third game in six days on the road with ex-Australian NBA players Deng Adel and Cameron Bairstow missing their second straight game on Thursday.
At first the Bullets showed no mercy, muscling their way to a 23-13 lead at the first break while still smarting from their six-point weekend loss to the Hawks.
But Harvey drained 17 points in the second term to help the Hawks level at 38-38 at halftime and lead 65-62 at the final interval before ensuring the Bullets (0-2) remained win-less this season.
"I thought there was a lot to take from that. We can be confident we can be a decent basketball team this season - I think we have had two practices together as a team," Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis said.
Hawks captain AJ Ogilvy had 14 points and nine boards.
For the Bullets, Nathan Sobey had 24 points, Vic Law 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Australian Associated Press