P.J. Tucker didn't get much of an opportunity with the Toronto Raptors after they drafted him seven years ago. It's taken quite a while, but he seems to finally be making an impact in the NBA.
Tucker looks to build on one of the best games of his career and tries to help deal more misery to his former team, coming off a deflating performance as the Phoenix Suns host the skidding Raptors on Friday night.
Selected 35th overall in the 2006 draft after winning Big 12 player of the year honours at Texas, Tucker appeared in only 17 games for Toronto and would get waived late in his rookie season. He ended up spending the next five years playing internationally, not returning to the NBA until being signed by Phoenix (10-9) before last season.
"Me getting cut from Toronto that first year definitely helped with the ego," Tucker told the Suns' official website in October.
Tucker has become their starting small forward and, while his role on offence is limited, he is considered by most of the Suns to be their top defender. That certainly proved to be the case Wednesday, when he held Houston all-star James Harden to 14 points and 3 of 17 from the field in a 97-88 victory.
"We usually put P.J. on the best [player] on the other team," Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. "That's what P.J. does, he loves defence.
"He loves getting after guys and he takes pride in it. He's really made a mark in this league by doing that."
Tucker also matched a season high with 18 points and shot 8 of 13 from the field. He had four steals, raising his team-leading total to 27, as Phoenix held the league's highest-scoring team to its lowest point total and worst shooting percentage (35.2) of the season.
"He's the glue to our defence because he takes the challenge of guarding the team's best player on the court and he tries to lock them down when it's hard to," said Eric Bledsoe, who led Phoenix with 20 points.
Tucker's challenge now will be to help slow down DeMar DeRozan or Rudy Gay, who combine to average 41.4 points per game.
That duo accounted for 44 on Wednesday, but the Raptors were victimized by the biggest comeback of the NBA season as they blew a 27-point lead in the second half en route to a 112-103 defeat at Golden State.
"It's one of those where they started hitting the three in the third quarter and we couldn't turn the water off," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. "We did an excellent job in the first three quarters and then we couldn't score in the fourth quarter."
Toronto (6-11) gave up 112 points for the second straight game and is letting opponents shoot 49.8 per cent from the field during a four-game losing streak.
Phoenix is among the league's best shooting teams at 46.3 per cent. Goran Dragic is at 53.7 over the past five games while averaging 21.8 points.
Fellow point guard Kyle Lowry is averaging 19.0 points during the Raptors' four-game skid. They're 1-6 when he scores at least 15 points.
Toronto has won the last three meetings, including two at Phoenix, after losing 14 in a row.