Dirty Job: Rockets Forward P.J.Tucker Hopes To Propel Houston To Victory
For some NBA players a game in mid-March against the Phoenix Suns, a team that had been in draft lottery mode since December wouldn’t matter, but not Rockets forward P.J. Tucker. He was in a shooting slump (5-of-18) in his last four games and had just went scoreless against the 16-54 Suns. Most individuals would want to go somewhere quiet and figure out what was wrong, but not the former Big 12 Player of the Year.
I was covering that game that night and as I rode the elevator from press row down to the conference room with other media members there was loud hollering going on before the doors opened. We all begin to look at one another wondering what we were about to head into exiting the elevator due to the excessive noise. Once the doors opened to our surprise stood a shirtless Tucker approaching us as we walked off. He was headed up to the Rockets practice facility to work on his shot. We later found out that it had been P.J. who was causing all of the commotion with none other than himself.
“P.J. was very upset with himself for not making shots and was talking to himself very loudly as he waited for the elevator. He kept saying out loud that he has to be better,” said a source I spoke to that was near the situation.
Tucker has taken that work ethic into the Western Conference Semifinals and it has helped the Rockets rebound from a 0-2 deficit to the Warriors to being locked up a 2-2 headed into a crucial game 5. Key word to take away from that last sentence was REBOUND. Tucker has been relentless on the glass this series snagging 8.8 per game and he has recorded double digit rebounds in games 2, 3 and 4.
He is also doing all the dirty work such as playing great defense on Warriors superstar Kevin Durant. Per 36-minutes with Tucker on the floor Durant is averaging 25 points, but when P.J. goes to the bench he is averaging 49.
“He plays his butt off every possession. His talent is to play hard and he brings it every night. We expect that from him. There is no let down from what he brings to the game. We can count on that every night,” said James Harden after the game 4 victory against Golden State.
The Rockets need another strong offensive performance from Tucker if they want to steal home-court advantage from the Warriors. He chipped in 17 points in game 4 and shot 50% from three-point range. Something that did not go unnoticed by head coach Mike D’Antoni.
“On the offensive end he was huge. Came up with the huge rebound again and was just battling,” said D’Antoni.
Tucker’s play and physicality has also caught the eye of Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Houston has employed their own version of the “Hampton Five” or as D’Antoni like to call his smaller lineup, “South Beach Five” and that has completely caught Golden State by surprise.
“It puts one more three-point shooter on the floor and they did that more tonight than they have in the first three games,” said Kerr. “They’ve got a lot of middle linebackers on that team. They are sturdy and we’re like volleyball players, long and lean.
Maybe P.J. will channel his inner Benardrick McKinney (Houston Texans Pro-Bowl Linebacker) and get a win tonight in Oracle.