MIAMI — Quite a lot of N.B.A. players undergo the motions in the case of boxing out for rebounds on free throws, and nobody can really blame them. Most free throws, nearly 80 percent of them, are successful. So why hassle boxing out in any respect?
After which there’s Miami’s P.J. Tucker, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound wrecking ball who has spent his profession disguised as an influence forward. Consider Game 1 of the N.B.A.’s Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night, as Gabe Vincent, a teammate with the Heat, lined up for the second of two free throws. Tucker took advantage of that window to throw most of his body weight into the midsection of the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum.
It was a bit much. One among the referees advised Tucker to chill it, which didn’t please him. However it was not going to stop Tucker from playing the one way he knows learn how to play — hard — and his toughness was amongst the explanations the Heat were capable of run away with a 118-107 victory within the series opener.
“He inspires everybody,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said, adding: “He’s like a terrific linebacker. He just gets everybody organized and he communicates so well.”
In a game that Jimmy Butler, as usual, dominated for Miami, ending with 41 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, Tucker posted a bunch of numbers that were nondescript. He had 5 points, 6 rebounds and three assists. He shot 2 of 5 from the sphere and missed each of his free throws. He trudged across the court like a dump truck with a flat tire after rolling his right ankle in the primary half.
But his impact was enormous. After Tatum scored 21 points to steer the Celtics’ to an 8-point lead at halftime, Tucker — bad wheel and all — someway managed to affix himself to Tatum for long stretches of the second half, helping to limit him to 1 of seven shooting and eight points the remaining of the best way.
“What he does doesn’t really get noticed by everybody on the market,” Spoelstra said of Tucker. “I don’t have my glasses on, so I don’t even know what his stat line was. But you’re talking about one in all the hardest covers. After which when he’s on the weak side, he does all the fitting things.”
The Heat outscored the Celtics by 12 points within the 31 minutes that Tucker played. They won by 11.
“I didn’t know I’d fall in love with a basketball player as much as I even have with P.J.,” Butler said. “He’s got the tough job every night of guarding the opposing team’s best player, after which goes down there and shoots the ball five times. You’ve got to respect that.”
The Celtics were short-handed — and short on rest. Their conference semifinal series with the Milwaukee Bucks went to seven games before they were capable of advance on Sunday.
As if that had not been difficult enough, they were down two starters for his or her opener against the Heat: Marcus Smart, the league’s defensive player of the 12 months, was sidelined with a sprained right foot, and Al Horford entered the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols on Tuesday afternoon.
The Heat had been off since Thursday. They scuffled through a rusty start against the Celtics, missing their first seven field-goal attempts. Tucker was miffed.
“Took us a protracted time to get aggressive,” he said. “We were way too soft, they usually got to just about every thing they wanted.”
At 37, Tucker is the proud protagonist of one in all the more well-chronicled basketball odysseys. He joined the Toronto Raptors for the 2006-07 season as a second-round draft select of the University of Texas. But after he played sparingly for the Raptors, he spent the following five seasons playing in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany, refining his game along the best way.
By the point he signed with the Phoenix Suns before the 2012-13 season, he had proved he could do a little bit of every thing: defend, rebound, facilitate and even rating when the chance presented itself. A useful defender, he won an N.B.A. championship last season after the Bucks picked him up near the trade deadline.
At this late stage, Tucker is closer to the top of his playing days than he’s to the start, and the wear and tear and tear of his career was clear during Tuesday’s game. After he rolled his ankle within the second quarter, he hobbled to the locker room. His return appeared doubtful.
But Tucker swapped out his footwear — one in all the league’s more prolific sneakerheads, he has a whole lot of pairs to pick from — and summoned some divine intervention.
“There’s a genie back there,” Tucker said. “Took one in all my wishes.”
Spoelstra recalled checking on Tucker’s availability for the second half.
“He checked out me dead in the attention and said: ‘Don’t even give it some thought. I’m playing within the second half,’ ” Spoelstra said. “I’m like, ‘All right, I wasn’t even questioning it.’ ”
As he played through pain, Tucker appeared to take out his angst on Tatum, one in all the postseason’s emerging young stars. Tucker was just like the old guy on the neighborhood park: hobbled but clever, an unshakably annoying presence. The Celtics shot 2 of 15 from the sphere within the third quarter because the Heat outscored them, 39-14. But again: Tucker saw room for improvement.
“What took us so long?” he asked.
He sank his lone 3-pointer within the fourth quarter and seized the moment by raising his arms to the group. It was a rare likelihood for him to wash within the highlight, but his teammates understand his value.
At the ultimate buzzer, Butler embraced him.
“He does all of the little things,” Butler said.