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Win over Grizzlies provides glimpse of Playoff P.J. Tucker

This was the Tucker for whom the Sixers tampered to sign last offseason.

Memphis Grizzlies v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Philadelphia 76ers signed P.J. Tucker to a three-year, $33.2 million deal last July, the thought was that the 2021 NBA champion would help the Sixers learn how to win in the postseason. But as the 37-year-old Tucker struggled with a dead hand earlier this season and at one point scored a grand total of three points combined over an eight-game stretch, fans understandably wondered if the signing was already a disaster.

Regular season basketball wasn’t why Tucker was brought in, though, but with the Memphis Grizzlies in town Thursday night, we saw a facsimile of what Tucker brings to the table in a playoff-like atmosphere. His final line looked fairly run-of-the-mill: six points, 2-of-3 from three, six rebounds (two offensive), one assist, one steal, and one turnover. However, Tucker played 32 minutes, six more than his season average, and was tapped as a small-ball five option in the fourth quarter. Following the win, head coach Doc Rivers was asked about the decision:

“Tuck at 5 was huge for us tonight. We don’t have a lot of practice time, we don’t have a lot of time to work on it. We talked to him before the [All-Star] break and told him we were gonna do it more and more.”

In addition to the lineup versatility Tucker brings to the table, he did a bunch of the little things that helped the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat to playoff series victories in recent years.

One of those big little plays was his offensive rebound and touch pass assist on Tobias Harris’ go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute.

Tucker spoke to reporters after the game about his game-winning offensive rebound:

“I don’t really remember how I had that. I don’t really remember. I just remembered I had an open lane to board, get back, and make sure we got set. You know, reading the bounce so I knew where it was going. It’s just making plays. [Joel Embiid] passed it back after I got it in, and swing, [Tobias Harris] was ready. I knew he shot a bad shot on the last one, so I knew [Tobias] was going to make it because the other one hit the side of the backboard. So, I knew [Tobias] was going to make this one.”

No matter the situation, P.J. has been through it all and will remain unperturbed. He was asked about facing a young and confident Memphis team:

“They’re young. It doesn’t matter, we just wanted to win the game. We needed to win this game. First game back after All-Star break, kind of needed to get going. Wake up, [we had a] slow first half. Kind of got going the second. [We] needed everybody’s good energy. It was a good game.”

All season long, Tucker has been the veteran able to tell it like it is to his teammates. The defensive rotations aren’t crisp enough, the energy isn’t high enough. He brings the cachet that only dropping a championship ring can provide. That off-the-court value was always a given, but Thursday night we saw some of the on-court production that made the Sixers risk some second-round picks to ensure they signed Tucker in the first place.

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