The Sixers stole a 102-97 victory in Thursday’s contest to take a 3-0 series lead over the hosting Nets. Tyrese Maxey was a star, dropping 10 points late in the fourth to bring the Sixers across the finish line. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, however, credited someone else with the win — P.J. Tucker.
Postgame, Rivers wasn’t shy about the impact Tucker had on the scrappy contest, even if he only scored three points on 1-for-3 shooting.
“P.J. Tucker won the game for us. He did. He kept everything alive, he rebounded, he defended,” Rivers told reporters in Brooklyn. “It’s amazing how we focus so much on scoring. And obviously, P.J.’s going to keep taking those shots. And he’s going to have games where he makes them, and he’s going to have games where he doesn’t. We keep telling him, ‘We don’t care. Just keep shooting ‘em and keep playing.’
“That’s just a great example with a guy that doesn’t score, how much of an impact he can have on the team. He was huge. He was the toughest guy on the floor tonight.”
Again, he is talking about a player that had just three points, eight rebounds and four assists after 29 minutes on the floor in Game 3. Not exactly turning heads, especially if you didn’t watch the game.
However, if you did watch the game, you would notice the merit to what Rivers said about Tucker’s performance. The level of intensity of play out of Tucker has jumped noticeably from the regular season, resulting in highlights like these:
A 40 second compilation of PJ being an absolute dawg pic.twitter.com/qG6JxdZ01R— Jacob Moreno (@Jacobmorenonba) April 21, 2023
Most of those plays didn’t change a single number in Tucker’s stat line, but they were huge in the Sixers escaping Thursday night with a win. Would it be nice to have him taking and sinking corner threes with ease? Of course. No one is handing Tucker the scoring title anytime soon, and those criticisms around offensive production are completely valid. But snagging tough rebounds, drawing fouls, and playing gritty, effective defense earned the Sixers a number of possessions or continued possessions against the Nets in Game 3. That undeniably helped the Sixers reclaim the lead from the Nets and ultimately the win.
And Tucker’s teammates took note.
“We were going against that last year when he was in Miami. And that’s what he does; he just gets extra possessions,” James Harden said. “That’s draining on a team. He did that tonight, he’s been doing it all year, and he’s been doing it his whole career. I’m just happy he’s on our team now.”
Sixers’ star center Joel Embiid expressed a similar gratitude, and went on to say that these games are exactly why Tucker was brought to Philadelphia in the first place.
“He kicked our butt last year on the offensive rebounds,” Embiid said. “And tonight, when he came back in the game, I think he got one, and then on the second one, he got fouled. And then he got another one that he kicked out to De’Anthony [Melton]. That’s why we brought him here. And then defensively, just the ball pressure, the aggressiveness, the leadership.”
And Tucker is enjoying himself doing it all. When asked how he feels about games that are scrappy and intense like Thursday’s, Tucker expressed his comfort.
“I’m at home. I love that,” Tucker said. “Those are my favorite kind of games because the refs start letting a little more go and it gets chippy. I told Joel before we started the playoffs, ‘These type of games are the ones you remember if you get to where you want to be.’ ... And these are the kind of games that build that foundation to be able to win because then, when you’re rolling it’s hard to beat you.”
And, if Tucker is able to add some points to his repertoire in future playoff games — or frankly, even if he just keeps playing like he did in Game 3 — he will be a major asset for the Sixers during the playoff run. Just as they intended when they picked him up.
Tucker and the Sixers will go for the sweep of the first-round series when they face the Nets in Game 4 on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET in Brooklyn.