“Man, I couldn’t stand you last year,” Philadelphia 76ers Tyrese Maxey said he told teammate P.J. Tucker at practice on Tuesday.
Around this time last season, the Sixers were preparing for their second-round playoff matchup against the Miami Heat — the series that ultimately ended their season after six games. At the time, a familiar face was playing for the opposition. Tucker averaged 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Heat in that series, and, though those stats may not turn heads, his impact was noted by Philadelphia.
“I remember last year playing against him,” Maxey said Tuesday. “It was particular times in the playoffs where he would get maybe a tap-out rebound or gather a rebound and he’ll hit a corner three. He would have like eight points and five rebounds and it would feel like he had 25 points and 10 rebounds. The impact he was making in every single game we would play against them was huge and now I’m just happy he’s on our team.”
Flash forward to now, and the Sixers are preparing for their playoff run after finishing the regular season 54-28 and as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The journey begins Saturday afternoon when they host the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets — this time with Tucker on their side.
The 76ers picked up Tucker on a three-year, $33 million deal in the 2022 offseason. Since then, he has played in and started 75 games this season for the Sixers. He has averaged just 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game this regular campaign, and it’s garnered Tucker a lot of criticism. However, there are other aspects off the stat sheet that his addition has brought to the team. Just ask teammate Tobias Harris.
“Honestly, it’s what he’s been bringing to the team all year,” Harris said. “His toughness, his physicality, his defensive mindset and approach. So all those things, myself and the whole group is excited for.”
Toughness won’t appear on the box score to compare to last season, but Sixers’ head coach Doc Rivers said that is one of the key differences between his squad this year vs. last year.
“We’re a tougher team,” said Rivers. “I don’t think I’m breaking any news, but we were not a very — we were skilled, but we were not a very physical, tough basketball team. We just were not. I said it before the playoffs, and unfortunately, it was the truth. Not just physically, like I think we’re mentally tougher team. I think there’s a lot to it, but we’re going to get challenged in the playoffs and we’ll find out.”
Sixers’ fans were treated to a glimpse of what could be Tucker’s sweet spot on offense for the playoffs on April 4. Tucker sank three corner triples in the fourth to help the Sixers over the Boston Celtics on the back of Joel Embiid’s 52-point explosion. If Tucker is able to keep finding that open space in the corner, it could mean a nice boost in production just in time for the playoffs.
If there was ever a time the team needed him to make an impact, it’s now. Whether it’s through his defensive attitude, his toughness, or hitting a few corner threes, the Sixers are glad to have him on their side this time around.
“I literally just told him,” Maxey said. “‘I couldn’t stand you last year.
Now I’m glad you’re with us.’”