The Houston Rockets are the most aggressive small ball operators in the league, and on the trade deadline last February, they basically went all-in on the strategy by trading away their lone natural big man in the rotation: Clint Capela.
“Small ball” is actually kind of a dated word now too. It’s more “microball” these days as they really went small and positionless.
The trade got Houston Robert Covington in return – yet another shooter in the wing – but the more intriguing part was one of the rotational shifts that came with it, and that’s none other than the 6’5 PJ Tucker occasionally playing the center position.
The memes have been coming non-stop ever since but the Rockets are surviving just fine. They ended up with the fourth seed in the Western Conference, won a seven-game battle in the first-round, and now they’re up in their second round series against the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers, 1-0.
While it’s superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook that led the Rockets to a 112-97 victory, Tucker was also an important cog. He only scored six points on 2-for-7 shooting but he grabbed nine rebounds, collected two steals, and logged a +19 plus-minus.
In addition, Tucker was able to stay his ground and provide the best post defense you could ask for, especially for a 6’5 “center” going opposite the Lakers’ monsters, particularly Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
During postgame interviews, he addressed all the skepticism too:
Tucker is head coach Mike D’Antoni’s ‘makeshift center’ under the microball system. He’s way behind in height and makes up for it in built as he has a stout, beefy, 245-pound frame, not typical for a ‘3 and D’ swingman. There’s a lot of heart, tenacity and great mechanics too.
It’s not a typo. You read that correctly. That’s top-level defense on Davis, and arguably the best anyone has ever seen.
Here’s a clip of that lone shot AD took against Tucker. It’s how the Game 1 match-up looked in a nutshell, with Tucker active in his feet and hands, and Davis is confused and frustrated.
Check out how he held his own opposite LeBron in the post too, who’s a tank.
Tucker and the rest of the Rockets have a ton of momentum heading into Game 2, and it should be interesting to see how they can build off the Game 1 beating they gave out.
Catch Game 2 on September 7 at 9:00 AM (Manila time).