Toronto Raptors: P.J. Tucker Gets Chance To Finish What He Started

A decade after his rookie campaign, P.J. Tucker gets another chance to make a difference with the Toronto Raptors.

P.J. Tucker played his 18th career game with the Toronto Raptors Friday night against the Boston Celtics. The first 17 came during the 2006-07 NBA season. Tucker was a raw, skinny rookie that rarely saw game action for a playoff-bound Raptors squad. Now a decade later, Tucker represents the perfect role player for the team that gave him his first chance.

After his stint with the Raptors, Tucker played five years for various teams in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany. In 2012, Tucker became a member of the Phoenix Suns. While the Suns only won 25 games that season, the chance they gave Tucker helped him prove himself as an NBA player.

The following season was when things really turned for Tucker and the Suns. Alongside Marcus and Markieff Morris, Tucker helped complete a versatile frontcourt that powered the Suns to 48 wins.

That Suns team excelled, partly as a result of positional fluidity. The ability to switch assignments offensively and defensively to create matchup advantages was a key component to the team’s success. Ultimately the Suns failed to make the playoffs that season. But the defensive versatility Tucker showed that season, as well in subsequent years, is what helped make him a sought-after commodity at the trade deadline.

Now back in Toronto, Tucker will finally have his chance to make a difference for a playoff team. The playoff stage is one where players like Tucker can gain notoriety. With the increased value of each possession, players that do the little things and sacrifice for the good of the team can be transformed into heroes.

Raptors fans received their first glimpse of the impact Tucker is capable of making Friday night against the Celtics. The nine points and 10 rebounds he recorded don’t do justice to the impact he had.

Down the stretch, the Raptors elected to go with Ibaka at center and Tucker at power forward. This look allowed them snuff out the Celtics’ pick-and-roll attack. Both players are capable of switching onto guards to help snuff out penetration. Isaiah Thomas averages an NBA-best 10.7 points in the fourth quarter. Yet the Raptors’ new defensive duo helped hold him to 1-of-5 shooting, while the team outscored Boston by 13 points in the fourth.

The impact they had did not go unnoticed by the Celtics:

For the Raptors to get a win over the Celtics without Kyle Lowry is a huge statement. This season Toronto’s offense has helped power the team to another successful season, and Lowry was the engine for that offense. When the offense struggled, as it did during their pre All-Star slide, the team simply didn’t have the ability to win.

While the Raptors received a career-best 43 points from DeRozan, and he was nothing short of spectacular, it was the team’s defense that stole the show. Dwane Casey elected to sit Jonas Valanciunas for most of the second half in favor of the team’s new additions, and it paid off.

For Tucker, this is the greatest opportunity of his career. It’s a chance to see all the work he puts in to be converted into actual team success and make a difference on the big stage. This version of the Raptors has always been about the team being greater than its individual parts as annual overachievers that got better each year.

This season looked like the first time this group of players were slipping in the wrong direction. But rather than allow that to happen, the front office went out and brought in glue guys to hold the team together. Ibaka to be the perfect two-way power forward for this team, while Tucker brings the heart and grit that had been missing all season long.

The Raptors are three games back of Boston for the second seed in the East. With the tiebreaker in hand, their journey is a little easier. But even if they don’t obtain the second seed, their improved roster looks like the second best team in the conference.

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