When it comes to the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who you face, it’s going to be a slugfest and the Toronto Raptors are going to need their handful of playoff tested veterans to help take their younger and more skilled teammates beyond the first round. The intensity goes up, the likelihood of a friendly whistle goes down and most young teams struggle in their first shot at the postseason.
“That’s how the playoffs are,” Hansbrough said. “It’s a slugfest. Its physical grind it out tough basketball. You can’t look for a whistle and you have to play tough.”
Hansbrough should know, as a member of the improving smash-mouth Pacers over the four previous seasons, “Psycho T” is one of only four Raptors that have been to the postseason three or more times. The others being John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Steve Novak.
Unlike the recent contests against teams playing out the string, in the games with playoff implications, some of that elevated intensity is already noticeable. Toronto had three big games in a row against higher rated teams that mattered to both sides and with the Chicago Bulls breathing down their necks for third place, the Raptors couldn’t afford to be swept.
“I think we are playing well,” Salmons said. “Three tough games (and we) went 2 of 3. Just trying to focus on the bigger picture and trying to get that playoff mentality.”
Salmons didn’t score a point in the last game against Indiana, but as a proven veteran, he still had an impact with some physical defense on the Pacers top scorer Paul George.
“It was just physical play that got a little out of hand,” Salmons explained. “The ball isn’t always going to come your way. You have to be able to do other things on the court. I have been playing a long time, so I try not to worry about and do other things to help my team.”
Salmons got under George’s skin and drew a double-technical foul – nothing special according to the Raptors veteran, but the no back down attitude and resilience will be important once the playoffs start.
“We aren’t going to back down from anybody,” Salmons said. “Not going to back down, not going to quit, we going to be there, we going to fight.”
Toronto discovered they had another tough physical defender when Hansbrough was injured earlier this season and Head Coach Dwane Casey turned to the veteran center Chuck Hayes to pick up the slack. Hayes has found a niche in the Raptors rotation and it’s a niche that is only going to become more important after the regular season ends.
“Chuck is a guy I played with many years ago when I was in Houston,” Novak said. “He was always a great defender, a great defender. He can stop some of the best guys in this league and John (Salmons) is the same way. He understands the right way to play. He understands how to be successful.”
“My job is to defend,” Hayes said. “If they have a low post player that is getting a lot of easy buckets and getting our guys in foul trouble, my job is to come in there and kind of slow him down and give him a different look.
“(Also,) to be a mentor to these guys, to be a veteran to the young players.”
Casey has being getting all of his playoff tested veterans into games down the stretch, in part because of injuries, but also because he knows he’ll need their experience and support to be successful in the postseason. The Raptors are starting three players with no playoff experience in DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and there is no way to replicate what is about to happen. They’ll need the mentorship and stabilizing influence of the guys who have been there before.
New York Knicks Must Beat Third Place Teams Or Fade Away This Weekend
The Knicks have no one to blame but themselves if they miss the playoffs this year and Toronto has their own reasons for continuing to make the Knicks lives miserable. The Raptors can tie the franchise record for wins in a season with a victory on Friday and have a chance at a 50 win campaign for the first time in team history if they can win their remaining 4 games.