P.J. Tucker sparks bench with defensive effort
In a league dominated by glitz and glamor, the former first-round draft pick prefers grit and effort. And for Alvin Gentry and Co. that's quite alright.
When Tucker signed a two-year contract in August -- with partial guarantees on the first year of the deal -- many wondered if he'd even break camp with the team.
After Tucker survived his first training camp since his rookie season back in 2006, many wondered if he would break into Gentry's rotation.
Once again the second-year forward answered the call rather emphatically. In the Suns' opening night loss to the Warriors, Tucker opened eyes with an impressive 23 minutes off the bench -- 10 points, two rebounds, a block and a steal.
Friday, Tucker continued to prove his worth off the pine, leading the Suns' historic 26-point comeback with defensive intensity and patience.
Tucker played a season-high 24 minutes, and while he didn't spark the offense with a bevy of points like Goran Dragic (26) or Shannon Brown (22), his contributions may have been more valuable.
With just over four minutes remaining, the Suns found themselves trailing Cleveland 98-91, as rookie Dion Waiters' personal 7-0 run had the Cavaliers in complete control.
But just as he did against B.J. Mullens in Phoenix's win over the Bobcats Wednesday, Tucker locked down on Waiters when it mattered most, holding the No. 4 overall pick from last year's draft to just two points down the stretch.
"He's a smart basketball player," Gentry said of Tucker. "He's a gritty basketball player, and he has unbelievable toughness. He believes in his ability to go out on the floor and guard. That's why we played him on a shooting guard, small forward, power forward, everywhere, because that's what he brings to the table."
To top it off, Tucker -- eight points and seven rebounds in the comeback win -- capped his night by draining a go-ahead corner jump shot with 90 seconds remaining.
And on a night when Marcin Gortat added five more block shots to his impressive early season total, all the league's leading shot blocker wanted to talk about was Tucker.
"For me, P.J. Tucker was incredible," said Gortat. "The guy works hard every day he comes in and doesn't complain about anything. He gets into the game and gives us rebounding, and [against the Cavaliers] was even hitting shots. It was huge."
Tucker knows his defensive-minded efforts likely won't make any highlight reels anytime soon. But he hopes in the very least that his mentality rubs off on teammates, because the first-year Sun believes Phoenix has the capability to be a top-notch defensive team.
"This is just how I play," said Tucker. "It's just about never giving up. We have a lot of guys who can play defense and collectively we can be a really good defensive team when we want to be."
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