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Bucks scrappy Tucker knows Suns stars well in NBA Finals

/ 08:47 PM July 06, 2021
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks talks with P.J. Tucker #17 during a time out during the first half in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawksat Fiserv Forum

FILE — Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks talks with P.J. Tucker #17 during a time out during the first half in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks at Fiserv Forum on July 01, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Patrick McDermott/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Patrick McDermott / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Milwaukee Bucks forward P.J. Tucker, who spent five years in Europe before earning an NBA role, now finds himself playing for a title against ex-teammates Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

Tucker, a 36-year-old forward, brings a scrappy spark to the Bucks and some insight about Phoenix Suns stars Paul and Booker for the NBA Finals that start Tuesday.

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“He knows these guys really well and that can help in the series,” Bucks guard Jeff Teague said.

“PJ’s a competitor. He’s a funny guy, great teammate. He brings a toughness to this team, never-backing-down attitude, and he’s really important to the group.”

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It’s a toughness Tucker earned after playing only 83 minutes for Toronto in his 2006-07 NBA rookie season.

He went to play in Israel, winning the Most Valuable Player award for 2008 champion Hapoel Holon, then played in Ukraine, Greece, Italy and taking a 2012 German Finals MVP award for champion Brose Bamberg.

“It’s all the cliche stuff. Don’t give up. Keep fighting,” Tucker said. “But you can say that stuff and still not work out. It has got to be a little luck. I worked my butt off for years and still never got a chance.”

Tucker signed a deal to play in Russia but opted out when the Suns offered a contract.

“It ended up being the best decision I ever made,” he said. “It changed my life.”

Tucker loves Phoenix, but not for the next two weeks.

“This is the time to lock in and take care of business,” he said. “After this is over, we can go back to loving each other. This is a battle. This is war.”

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Tucker spent five seasons with the Suns, two helping hone the skills of Booker with tough one-on-one drills.

“Being the vet on the team, it was my job to make him better. I knew what I had to do for what was coming and what he needed to be ready for,” Tucker said.

“We all knew that he was going to be really good. He showed he was one of the ones. He just took it and just elevated. He became who he is.”

Booker is averaging 27.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the playoffs and looking forward to rematches with Tucker in the Finals.

“So excited,” Booker said. “We’ve had those matchups before in practice that have gotten heated at the highest level. He’s a competitor and I have a lot of respect for that man, so we’re going to be out there battling.”

Tucker also spent 2017-2021 at Houston before a March trade to the Bucks, a Texas stay that included two seasons with Paul.

“That was a big pickup for them,” Paul said. “Tuck is always just going to do the dirty work. Whatever his team needs from him to help win, he’s always going to do that.”

Tucker’s Bucks teammates know that well.

“He brings that mental physicality you need to win,” Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis said. “All teams need a guy like him on your roster that do all the little things, getting all the loose balls, fighting for the rebounds.”

‘Super excited’

Mike Budenholzer

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – JULY 03: Jrue Holiday #21 of the Milwaukee Bucks talks with Mike Budenholzer during the second half in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on July 03, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Kevin C. Cox / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer likes his defensive versatility, saying, “His ability to guard lots of different types of players was really impressive.”

It helped put him on the brink of an NBA crown that once seemed impossible.

“It’s crazy because every year you fight to get to this moment,” Tucker said. “To actually be here, it’s hard to put it in perspective. I’m super excited. Been working for this moment all my life.”

Tucker has hundreds of pairs of sneakers but for once no idea what he will wear.

“I could care less as long as they lace up,” Tucker said. “This is probably the first time in my life I could care less what shoes I’m wearing.”

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