Tucker Fuelling The Raptors And Improving Defence
To understand the full extent of the effort P.J. Tucker exerts every game, it is necessary to use not only your eyes, but your ears as well. In recent games, thanks to brilliant fourth quarter efforts, it has been Tucker that has received the post-game on-cout interview. Much has been made of the non-stop talking that Tucker does when he's on the floor. Listening to him in the immediate aftermath of these games, that voice is barely above a rasp, the true volume saved for when he is screaming out defensive instructions on the floor.
Tucker came to the Raptors from the Phoenix Suns in a trade deadline deal. He's yet to play with All-Star Kyle Lowry after Lowry had wrist surgery following the All-Star break. While teammates and members of the coaching staff imagine how the team will improve with Lowry returning to mesh with Tucker and fellow new Raptor Serge Ibaka, the impact of Tucker's arrival has been immediate. The day of the trade, Tucker took a red-eye to Toronto, arriving early in the morning and going without sleep because of a day filled with meetings. He still suited up to play against the Boston Celtics. Toronto won that game and Tucker was one of the best defensive players on the floor to close out the win.
After Toronto's 94-86 victory against the Dallas Mavericks — the Raptors' fifth straight win — Casey pointed to the team's newest additions as the reason why the team's defence has been more consistent since the All-Star break.
"The two guys our front office added, P.J. and Serge, are excellent defenders," Casey said. "We're doing nothing different, our coverages are the same. It's different people. Those two men bring the energy and the toughness. For the first time that I've been in Toronto, we have two guys in the huddle talking defence. Usually guys are saying how can I get my shot, how can I get my touches and those two guys are coming in and talking about defence."
As the team lost one of its loudest leaders on the floor following Kyle Lowry's wrist surgery — Yes, Lowry is still chatting away on the sidelines, serving as a player-coach of sorts, but it isn't the same as having him in uniform — it gained another in Tucker and his nonstop talking when he is on the floor.
Despite joining the team just a month ago, Tucker has already become one of the clearest voices in the locker room after wins and losses. He has taken it upon himself to get his teammates talking on the defence, as well as challenging them to be better on that end of the floor. With the hustle and intensity he brings every possession, it's only natural that he'd expect the same effort from the other players on the floor with him.
After an overtime victory against the Bulls that snapped an 11-game losing streak to Chicago and came despite the team trailing by 15 at the start of the fourth quarter, Tucker spoke about digging deep.
"What we needed was just a toughness," he said. "Picking guys up, making them turn the ball over. If you sit back and let teams move the ball and get into their offences you're not going to get any stops you're not going to turn the momentum."
When he was asked about DeMar DeRozan's improved defence with Lowry out of the lineup, he said he has challenged the team's leading scorer to bring that same effort on the defensive end of the floor.
"That's what we need," Tucker said. "If we're going to take this to another level we need him to pick up his defence. He's been doing it, he's been chasing guys off screens, rebounding the balls, he's been doing things on defence and doing what he does on offence. I think with him doing that it's just going to propel us."
Cory Joseph has said that the Raptors need to buy in defensively since he came to Toronto a season ago. Having spent the entirety of his career with the San Antonio Spurs before signing with the Raptors, Joseph knows the importance of sticking to the system and proper communication.
"That's what defence is," Joseph said. "Defence is about schemes, communication. The communication is a huge factor in getting stops.
"[P.J.] brings veteran experience to the team defensively," Joseph continued. "He's been a defensive stopper in this league for ages. He brings that toughness everyday, night in and night out."
Tucker has been so solid since joining the Raptors, head coach Dwane Casey has been trying to keep him in the game as much as possible down the stretch. In recent games, he's often played the entire fourth quarter, along with sophomore Norman Powell, also in the game for his defensive abilities. For Powell, a basketball sponge eager to soak up whatever tips and tricks his teammates and coaches have to pass along, sharing the floor with Tucker makes everything much easier.
"It help a lot," Powell said. "It limits mistakes. He's talking early, and often, you know what the team is doing. You know what his man is doing, whether it's setting a back screen, screening on ball, whether we're switching it, [his talking] just limits the mistakes we have on defence when he is — and everybody — is communicating. We need more of that. It just helps. It helps me know the coverages and where I need to be at the right time."
Tucker has spoken about the importance of communication on defence saying without it team defence becomes more individual and that's where breakdowns happen.
"Without talking you're not really focused on help," Powell agreed. "The court for the offence is wide open [when you're not communicating]. When you're talking and you're active the lanes are closed down and it makes it difficult for the other team to score. We figured that out and it's been improving every game."