No matter how young or old, we are all aware that the most significant part of the human body is the brain. From processing information that is received to affecting the way humans think and experience emotions, the brain is what keeps us functioning on a day-to-day basis.
However, no part of the human body is more meaningful than the heart. The heart pumps blood around the body, and without it, living would be nearly impossible. Without a beating heart, the brain will not and cannot function.
Similar to the human body, the same can be said about the Houston Rockets. After a 41-point performance in Game 3, James Harden showcased why he is the most significant player on the team. And in comparison to the brain, Harden is what keeps the Rockets functioning on the day-to-day basis.
However, when speaking on the most important part of the team related to the human heart, P.J. Tucker’s postseason run is proving why he is the core of the Rockets. And nothing demonstrates his value to the team more than his heroic Game 3 performance in the Rockets’ 126-121 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors.
That may sound hard to say about a player that ended the night scoring seven points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field, but it was Tucker’s grit and hustle that led to an MVP-worthy performance Saturday night.
P.J. Tucker doing the dirty work pic.twitter.com/JvfwOszn71— HoopsWave \\: (@HoopsWaveTV) May 5, 2019
With the Rockets up 58-49 entering the third quarter, Houston then nearly squandered away their nine-point lead after a second-half blitz from the Warriors led by Kevin Durant. The 10-time All-Star put on a scoring clinic after the break, as the Warriors surged to take a 94-93 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Matching KD for point-for-point down the stretch, however, Harden came up huge in an attempt to keep the Rockets in striking distance. But it was the clutch defensive performance from Tucker that led the Rockets to close out the win.
In a run in which he scored 34 of his 46 points in the final 29 minutes, Durant’s scoring surge came to a halt once Tucker stepped up defensively in the fourth. Despite playing in foul trouble, Tucker held Durant to one field goal in the final minutes of the quarter, as he recorded a block on KD’s first attempt and forced him to miss another three shots.
In addition to Tucker’s defense on Durant, the 6’7” forward pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds in the win. His rebounding performance down the stretch was also clutch in a distinctive way, as 9 of Tucker’s boards came late in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Not only did his work on the boards help give the Rockets several second-chance opportunities late in the fourth, but it was also key to Houston overcoming their season-long rebounding woes overall, as they out-played the Warriors 67-48 on the glass.
With Tucker’s relentlessness and toughness at its peak, the Rockets looked like a championship team in Game 3, and head coach Mike D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle:
“That’s who Tuck is. He’s a winner and he wouldn’t let us lose.”
Even if one was to take a look at Houston’s previous series against the Utah Jazz, Tucker’s effort and hustle on both side of the ball were one of the keys to Houston’s comfortable 4-1 win. In the five-game series, Tucker averaged 12.0 points on 43.3 percent shooting from deep, to go along with a sparkling defensive net rating of 97.6.
According to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, Chris Paul said it the best:
“All of the stuff he [Tucker] doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. We say it all the time, but it’s always nice for other people to get a chance to see it and appreciate it. He’s easily one of the most valuable guys on our team just because of the way he plays. He plays hard, and he forces you to do the same.”
After becoming the unsung hero following his Game 3 performance, Paul’s post-game comments demonstrates how P.J. Tucker is the beating heart of the Houston Rockets. Without Tucker, the Rockets will not and cannot win that elusive NBA title they desperately desire.