the miami heatdirected by Jimmy Butlerface the Philadelphia 76ersdirected by James Hardenin Game 2 of their NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semi-Final Series on Wednesday, May 4, 2022 (5/4/22) at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida.
Miami leads the series, 1-0, after beating Philadelphia in Game 1, 106-92.
Here’s what you need to know:
What: NBA Playoffs, Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 2
who: 76ers vs Heat
When: Wednesday, May 4, 2022
Or: FTX Arena
Weather: 7:30 p.m. ET
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There’s no one on the Miami Heat roster who knows Philadelphia guard James Harden better than PJ Tucker.
They got to know each other more in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Tucker set the tone for the night in Miami by playing all-court defense against his former Houston teammate, then continued to do more and more dirty work in 28 minutes. His closing numbers — 10 points and seven rebounds — came close to fully measuring the impact he had in a 106-92 win for the Heat over the 76ers on Monday night.
“That’s what I do,” said Tucker, a big part of Milwaukee’s run to an NBA title last season and now someone trying to earn another ring with Miami. “I’m just trying to change the game, affect the game without scoring, find a way to win the game. That’s it.”
It sounds simple. This is not the case.
Tucker was the leader of a defensive corps that held Harden to a 5-for-13 shooting night from the field, 1-for-4 in the second half, barely the numbers Philadelphia probably needs him to have while the runner-up MVP injured and league scoring champion Joel Embiid sidelined. Harden finished with 16 points, four after halftime.
“It’s not about James,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s about all of them. We are a team and we just have to play as a team. James can score more. We need to put it in better places. … There’s not just one guy who’s going to take over from Joel.
Harden admitted after Game 1 that he could be more aggressive.
What he didn’t say was that Tucker made it pretty tough on Monday night.
“PJ is PJPJ is PJ,” Harden said. “Play hard, but it’s not something I worry about.”
Tucker didn’t limit his moments of impact as he defended Harden, a three-time scoring champion and former MVP. He had a third-quarter streak that seemed like a springboard for the Heat to turn things around.
He entered the lane for a field goal that put Miami up 66-61. The Heat stopped on the next possession, and the next few seconds were all Tucker.
He fended off a 76ers rebound to extend a Miami possession, then got another offensive rebound, then fought off Tobias Harris so Bam Adebayo could get another rebound that leads to free throws.
“I have the utmost respect for him,” Adebayo said.
The game was still in balance at that time. It wasn’t for long. The Heat would lead by 21 in the fourth, the academic result and a 1-0 series lead was about to come to Miami.
“There’s definitely a timeliness to his winning games,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s hard to describe. These are momentum-changing pieces, and it just feels the moment. And often it will be those intangible plays with loose balls, deflections, charging catches, or just chasing at both ends of the court that don’t necessarily translate into a stat. They simply infuse confidence and life into your team. He is a truly inspiring player.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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Ryan Novozinsky can be reached at [email protected].