There shouldn’t be any doubt about what Tyler Hansbrough brings to the Toronto Raptors. Three years of postseason experience with the Indiana Pacers, the last two being slugfest type series with the Miami HEAT, Hansbrough has the playoff experience this young team will be looking for down the stretch of this season and beyond.
The Raptors recent double-overtime loss to the Thunder was a no quarter given slugfest where Hansbrough made his impact felt in limited minutes – just like what should be expected in a playoff game.
“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 that’s the way it was tonight. You have to play tough. For as good as they are, we took them to double overtime and we felt we could have won this game easily if things went just a little bit different. We’ll take confidence from this. No one is satisfied with this, we all wanted the win, so we’ll build off of it we’ll keep improving.”
The Raptors lost this game on an improbable long range three-pointer by Kevin Durant that wouldn’t have even mattered if John Salmons could have hit his free throws only seconds before. However, the game had all the earmarks of a playoff battle and the Raptors needed the experience if they are to get by the first round of the playoffs.
“We need every game we can (get),” Hansbrough said. “We are fighting for everything, but we’ll take off of it, build off of it and try to get the next one.
“Their core has been together for a while, so they kind of have a flow and know each other pretty good, so they have chemistry. Also the experience they have, they know what to do in these situations. They have been in close games. They know how to grind it out versus a young team. We haven’t been together as long as the Thunder has so it’s a big difference. They have a lot of experience.”
The ability of a team’s bench players to step up against opponents with superior skills is pretty much mandatory for any kind of successful playoff run and Hansbrough showed how he can impact the game while defending Serge Ibaka. Twice Hansbrough blocked Ibaka in the post and took the ball away from him, once getting Ibaka to talk himself into a technical foul.
“I think they got a couple of offensive rebounds and we were battling and I just got my hands on it and when that happened, I just kind of ripped it away,” Hansbrough said. “(Ibaka) must have said something. I didn’t do anything to him. Usually there is some kind of confrontation, but I had nothing to do with that (technical foul).”
Actually Hansbrough did create the opportunity to get the tech on Ibaka. The Raptors forward ripped the ball out of Ibaka’s hand like a bully stealing a little kid’s lunch money, but that is the kind of intensity found in a playoff game. Ibaka felt the effects even after Hansbrough was back on the bench.
“Everyone is playing as hard as they can and there was some good defensive effort,” Hansbrough said. “Everybody was contesting everything, everything was challenged and some nights are going to happen like that. It’s not going to be beautiful and it’s not going to be a pretty basketball game, it’s just going to happen.”
Hansbrough is one of a very few Raptors with significant playoff experience and the battle with the HEAT in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals is replaceable. He’s been in the tough games before and he wants to be in them again.
“I’ve been part of these slug-it-out kind of games and that’s kind of the reputation when I was with the Pacers we were known for – playing bully-ball a little bit,” Hansbrough said. “I’ve been in the league a little while and been part of these games. It’s fun, I enjoy it.”
Head Coach Dwane Casey will have challenges with his rotation going forward. When healthy, the Raptors frontcourt has become rather crowded. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are going to start. Patrick Patterson has earned the first big man off the bench spot when he gets back and the veteran center Chuck Hayes has carved himself out an effective specialty role.
Hansbrough’s impact, however, only seems to be getting more pronounced as the team gets closer to the playoffs. Referees are less inclined to whistle physical play in the post as the intensity of games ramps up, increasing the value of physical toughness above what it has through most of the regular season. Hansbrough has been through this before and playing with a hit-first mentality is a part of his make-up. His minutes and his stats probably won’t change a lot down the stretch, but the impact of this high intensity player will. The playoff bound Raptors are going to need Hansbrough’s experience and toughness.
Raptors Tyler Hansbrough: The Instant Warrior
“I have never lost that (physicality),” Hansbrough said. “That’s one thing I have always had. Even if I am a little injured, I’ll always have a little fight like that.”
Overtime Thunder Theft By Kevin Durant In Toronto
Despite the score, this was a titanic defensive battle with neither team shooting over 40 percent from the field through 48 minutes. The Thunder tried to go big in the first half and the Raptors didn’t just hold their own, they outplayed them, in part because of some huge contributions from Tyler Hansbrough off the bench.