What Happened to Heat Star P.J. Tucker in Game 7?

P.J. Tucker

Getty P.J. Tucker #17 of the Miami Heat warms up prior to Game Four against the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 23, 2022.

During the Miami Heat‘s heartbreaking 100-96 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, P.J. Tucker, the team’s starting forward, suddenly tapped out and took a seat on the bench with 8:28 left in the third quarter. The 37-year-old veteran, the Heat’s toughest defender, never returned to play, nor did the Heat announce why.

Tucker’s absence was quickly noticed by analysts and fans, but the matter wasn’t addressed until Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra‘s postgame press conference on Sunday, May 27.

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“I don’t want to speak on behalf of our players. But Tucker, he is a Miami Heat guy,” Spoelstra said. “I would say for the majority of this playoff run, he’s just been willing himself to get out there and do what he does best.”

“There’s probably five or six times where the trainers had told me, ‘I don’t think Tuck is going tonight.’ And I joked about it with you guys all the time. I couldn’t ask him how he was doing and I couldn’t ask the trainers in front of him how he was doing. He just has an incredible will inside of him to overcome anything that he may be feeling.”

Tucker was listed as questionable (knee irritation) to play before Game 7, and like the bulk of the Heat’s roster throughout the postseason, was playing through pain. During Game 2 against the Celtics, Tucker exited in the third quarter with a left knee contusion.

Yahoo! Sports Chris Haynes tweeted on May 19, “Sources: P.J. Tucker sustained the injury early in the first quarter and attempted to play through it. With a short turnaround in this series and the matchup problems Boston presents, an absent Tucker would be devastating for Miami.”

Tucker came back with a vengeance in Game 3, putting up 17 points with seven rebounds and three steals. But prior to Game 4 against the Celtics, Tucker was seen wearing protective gear during the morning shootaround. Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman tweeted at the time, “Been told not air cast but “jet boot that helps circulate blood” was the contraption worn by P.J. Tucker at today’s shootaround.”

Tucker was active in Game 4, but like nearly every Heat player in this embarrassing 102-82 defeat, his numbers took a huge dip. Tucker scored zero points with three rebounds and one steal. Tucker again struggled offensively in Game 7, putting up another goose egg before taking to the bench.

Tucker Suffered a Grade 1 Calf Strain at the End of the Regular Season

The 6-foot-5 defensive anchor who famously refuses to take veteran rest days, and appeared in 70 regular-season games (starting 71 of them) was forced to miss the final two games of the regular season after suffering a leg injury. It was considered “a grade 1 calf strain or the least severe on that scale, according to a league source,” Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang reported in April, which usually heals in seven to 10 days, per VeryWell Health.

Because the Heat entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the East and didn’t have to participate in the play-in tournament, Tucker received nearly two weeks of rest before the team’s first-round playoff game on Sunday, April 17. As Spoelstra mentioned during his postgame conference following Game 7, he addressed Tucker’s status with humor at the time.

“It’s encouraging,” Spoelstra said on April 13 of Tucker being a limited participant in practice. “He’s been doing round-the-clock treatment. From the night he got hurt to what he just told me today walking off the court, his message has been the same. He’ll be ready and don’t think otherwise with a few other expletives.”

Tucker, Along with Bulk of the Heat’s Starting Lineup, Struggled to Stay Healthy This Postseason

With Jimmy Butler powering with a knee injury, Kyle Lowry clearly struggling with his hamstring injury, the NBA’s 2022 Sixth Man of the Year, Tyler Herro, missing three games with a groin injury, and Max Strus’ shooting slump, Tucker’s ailment was not at the forefront of the Heat’s problems — a huge testament to the veteran’s fortitude.

“These last two series, it was a daily meeting with the training staff to get an inventory of where guys were,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s season came to a close.

“But these guys were so committed to the challenge that they are willing to do whatever it took to get themselves out there and compete and really compete at a high level physically. It just shows you the mental toughness of the guys in the locker room.”

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