P.J. Tucker traveled a long road to get back to the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the veteran role player about a week before the trading deadline in March. Used mainly as a reserve after the trade, Tucker emerged as a starter in the playoffs. After the Bucks won the title and Giannis Antetokounmpo soaked up much of the glory, it’s worth noting Tucker’s noteworthy achievement.
Like everyone else on the Milwaukee roster, this was Tucker’s first trip to the NBA Finals after falling short with the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets. Along the way to getting that first ring, the 36-year-old encountered a series of old friends.
But what sort of record could P.J. Tucker, who averaged 4.0 points per game in the Finals, achieve?
P.J. Tucker took a long and winding road
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, P.J. Tucker played three seasons at the University of Texas before entering the 2006 NBA draft. The Raptors selected Tucker, but not until the second round. He spent much of his rookie season in the G-League, appearing in only 10 NBA games. Toronto cut Tucker loose in March 2007.
From there, Tucker went on a world tour of sorts. He played in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy, and Germany over the next five seasons. It wasn’t for lack of trying that Tucker didn’t get back to the NBA sooner. He had Summer League looks from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Orlando Magic but never got a contract offer.
A stint in Las Vegas in the summer of 2012 turned out differently, and Tucker signed with the Phoenix Suns. Evolving into a tough defender and an adequate 3-point shooter, Tucker played with the Suns for four-plus seasons before he was traded to the Raptors at the deadline in 2017. A free agent that summer, Tucker cashed in with a four-year, $32 million contract from the Houston Rockets.
It was in Houston where P.J. Tucker set up his strange playoff run of 2021.
Tucker faced a former teammate in every playoff round in 2021
P.J. Tucker was rescued from a rebuilding situation in Houston, where the veteran no longer was a fit. He came to Milwaukee and played his role, though, taking on challenging defensive assignments, moving the ball when he got it, and trying to convert open looks when he got them.
But Tucker’s 3-point stroke was off through the first three playoff rounds when he was 15-of-51, a less-than-optimal 29.4%. In the NBA Finals, Tucker made the most of his few chances. He got only 20 shots in the finals, eight from distance, and made half of them (10-of-20 overall, 4-of-8 from deep).
In the first round of the playoffs, the Bucks swept the Miami Heat. Trevor Ariza, a former teammate of Tucker’s in Houston, started all four games for Miami.
But the familiar foes didn’t end there. In the Eastern Conference semifinals, Tucker and Milwaukee bounced the Brooklyn Nets and former Rockets superstar James Harden. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Tucker renewed acquaintances with ex-Houston big man Clint Capela.
Then in the NBA Finals, Tucker spent some time hounding the former Point God of the Rockets, Chris Paul.
Four rounds, four guys with whom P.J. Tucker played in Houston bounced from the playoffs in each of them. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.
What’s next for P.J. Tucker?
P.J. Tucker will be a free agent in August. Tucker exercised his option on the final year of his contract last fall and stated he wanted to retire a Rocket. But after the Harden fiasco unfolded, Tucker knew his days in Houston were numbered, per The Athletic.
But his final days as a Rocket were awkward, at best. He wound up leaving the club at the team’s behest for his last eight days on the roster. Tucker didn’t want to endanger his health playing for a non-competitive team. The Rockets wanted to get maximum value out of a player coveted by contenders.
Game 6 of the NBA Finals was an apt microcosm of Tucker’s late-career renaissance. Held scoreless, missing his lone shot, Tucker chipped in with six rebounds and a steal. His sixth rebound was the last of the series, and he gleefully dribbled out the clock. In his 36 minutes, the Bucks were plus-13 on the scoreboard.
It was the highest mark on the team, another typical P.J. Rucker accomplishment. He knows his role, plays it well, and some general manager will call when free agency begins.