About Last Night

About Last Night: Houston's Tucker factor

PJ Tucker shows why he's invaluable, James Harden breaks Jamal Murray's ankles, and more

James Harden and Chris Paul get the majority of the headlines. Clint Capela is first in line on Houston’s don’t-forget-about-him list. Meanwhile PJ Tucker continues to clock in and out.

The Rockets never have to wonder what life would be like without him, because the truck-like iron man hasn’t missed more than four games in a season since returning from Europe. He is one of just six players to average over 35 minutes per game, yet his 6.7 shot attempts per game are more than 10 fewer than next most unselfish player on that list (Jrue Holiday at 16.8)

That’s not to say Tucker won’t shoot if he’s open — as West-best Denver found out on Monday. The veteran swingman scorched the Nuggets for five 3-pointers in the first half alone and seven by the time Houston was done with its 125-113 victory.

Tucker’s offensive outburst was accompanied by his now trademark defensive aggression: a game-high seven deflections, 15 box-outs and 11 contested shots (second only to Capela). Yet it’s Tucker’s career-high mark from 3 (a sparkling 40 percent) that has helped keep the Rockets elite despite the offseason losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute.

There was a time when Tucker was one of the worst-shooting wing players in the league. That was 2012-13 — six years after Toronto originally drafted Tucker in the second round. He lasted just 17 games with the Raptors before spending the next five years playing in almost every European league imaginable. The post-Nash Suns needed a defensive minded presence, so they brought the 6-foot-6 forward in for a trial run.

Tucker stuck, becoming a fan favorite for his non-stop hustle and easily visible competitiveness. He was a bright spot for a Suns team that finished 25-57, but his impact appeared limited thanks to a 31.4-percent shooting clip from beyond the arc.

The summer of 2013, Tucker spent nearly every day conquering 3-point shooting drills on Phoenix’s practice court. The following season, his long-range efficiency jumped over seven percent (38.7).

Fast forward to present day, where Tucker has cemented himself as an indispensable part of the contending Rockets. Leave him open in the right corner, and it’s virtually a coin flip that he’ll hit.

In terms of durability and aggression, Tucker’s as close to 100 percent as it gets.

Ditto for his pregame attire:

Call the ankle ambulance

James Harden can be mean to people’s feet. Remember Wesley Johnson?

The reigning Kia MVP re-enacted the crime against Denver, using a behind-the-back dribble that left Jamal Murray’s face meeting hardwood.

The reactions were almost as good as the play itself.

Popovich ties Sloan

In the pantheon of coaches, a present-day great has pulled even with a retired one. Gregg Popovich tied Jerry Sloan’s 1,221 career wins thanks to the Spurs’ 119-107 win at Detroit.

The last time Pop’s Spurs didn’t make the playoffs:

  • Michael Jordan still had one more championship to go
  • Allen Iverson, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant had just wrapped up their rookie seasons
  • The Raptors and Grizzlies were two years old

Warm reunion

Two extremely important former Raptors made time to greet each other before their new teams tipped off.

DeMar x Coach Casey! #ThisIsWhyWePlay pic.twitter.com/qdqxrsLWs6

— NBA (@NBA) January 7, 2019

Luka’s solo act

Weird stat from Dallas’ 107-97 loss to the Lakers: Luka Doncic was the only Mavs starter to score in the second half until 5:19 remained in the fourth quarter. In that span, the Slovenian rookie shot 6-for-10 for 14 points. The other starters: 0-for-13.

30-10 vision

Anthony Davis (36 points, 13 rebound) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (30 points, 10 rebounds) dominated in their respective teams’ wins on Monday. Their combination of basket-making and glass-eating prowess is almost unequaled. The two have combined for 27 of the league’s 30-point, 10-rebound efforts this season — more than one quarter of 103 such performances so far in 2018-19.