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P.J. Tucker perseveres as vital Heat organ, embraced again as 'the heartbeat of our team'

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel on

Published in Basketball

For four days before the start of these Eastern Conference finals, left with little else to discuss during yet another extended postseason break, coach Erik Spoelstra and his Miami Heat players spoke of the impending need to make the hustle plays, be first to the ball, impose will, take care of the small stuff in the margins.

Basically, all the trite notions that eventually would give way to superstars offering the spectacular during the penultimate round of the postseason.

Only not so trite.

And almost as they were speaking directly to and directly about veteran power forward P.J. Tucker.

Because beyond all those who filled the box score Tuesday night with the gaudy, from the 41 points of Heat forward Jimmy Butler in the 118-107 Game 1 victory of the best-of-seven series to the 29 of Celtics forward Jayson Tatum in his team’s loss, it arguably was the small stuff from Tucker that carried some of the game’s greatest heft.

“The heartbeat of our team,” Spoelstra said of the 37-year-old veteran who is coming off last season’s championship with the Milwaukee Bucks and now is three wins from getting back to the NBA Finals.

 

“He inspires everybody,” Spoelstra said, with the Heat shifting their focus to Thursday’s 8:30 p.m. Game 2 against the Celtics at FTX Arena.

According to the boxscore, it was a mundane night, five points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal.

But for a team that was down 13 early, it was an inspirational night, one of several during this path from April into May, with an eye on June.

“I didn’t know I would fall in love with a basketball player as much as I have with P.J.” Butler said as Tuesday turned to Wednesday. “Seriously, because he just plays incredibly hard, and then he got the tough job every night of guarding the opposing team’s best player, and then going down there and shooting the ball five times.

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