Thank God For PJ Tucker
Spike Eskin is a host of the Rights To Ricky Sanchez. You can follow him on Twitter at @spikeeskin.
The biggest difference between this year’s Sixers team and previous iterations of the Embiid-led squad is their resiliency. And the biggest reason that this team is more resilient than previous versions of the Process Sixers is PJ Tucker. That’s it, that’s the difference.
There are countless times during the 22-23 regular season and playoffs where, as a group, we’ve said “the Sixers never win this game,” and they win it. You can thank Tucker for that. He is the leadership they’ve needed, the accountability they’ve never had. He is the reason that players on this team either refuse to give in, or are simply terrified to do so.
“You know the biggest difference? There was a guy named PJ Tucker on Miami. There’s a guy named PJ Tucker on our team,” Doc Rivers said after the Sixers Game 4 win. Fucking right there is. Try to imagine being a Sixers player who just half-assed a play and then looking across the court seeing Tucker stare at you.
And you’ve got to give credit to Doc Rivers for holding Tucker accountable as well. After Tucker passed up numerous open shots against the Celtics in Game 3, the coach pulled Tucker for De’Anthony Melton. His next run on the court, Tucker let the shots fly, hitting three corner three point shots and providing his usual energy and chaos on defense.
We are used to the point guard of the team going into a shell, becoming terrified to shoot, and giving up on a game. What we’re not used to is him bouncing back in the next game to dominate. We’re used to Joel Embiid getting shut down by Al Horford, and losing his grip on his ability to control the game. What we’re not used to is a teammate telling him that it’s unacceptable, and to push through. PJ Tucker did that after a particularly embarrassing stretch for Embiid on Sunday, and Embiid came back to Earth (in a good way), was able to put some points on the board in overtime, and eventually assist on the game winning bucket.
If there has been a big moment this season, somehow, some way, Tucker has been a part of it. In Embiid’s MVP defining performance against Nikola Jokic, it was Tucker who took the assignment of guarding the Denver center and allowing Joel to dominate. In Embiid’s MVP winning performance against the Celtics in March, it was Tucker’s corner threes down the stretch that sealed the deal of the game. It was Tucker who brought Paul Reed out of a rut in Game 1 of the Celtics series. When it felt like the Sixers might be letting Game 4 slip away, it was Tucker who came up with the offensive rebound, followed by and and-one layup and made free throw.
For much of the season, there has been a tremendous focus on what Tucker is not. He passes up too many shots, doesn’t have much touch around the rim, and is a half a step slower than you wish he was. What I present to you is that what Tucker is, is far more meaningful than what he is not. He is a leader by voice and by example. He’s a winning player. He is the heart of the team. All the things we swore were bullshit boomer-talk a few years back, they’re all true.
Thank God for PJ Tucker. Obviously, the talent of Joel Embiid and James Harden are necessary for the Sixers to win a title. But so is Tucker, and that should be clear now. The Sixers may not win the title this year, but Tucker is one of the biggest reasons why they might have their first real chance to do so.