He said it with a smile, something others might have expressed out of irritation, disillusionment.
“If you want recognition,” P.J. Tucker offered, “then my job isn’t a job for you.”
He has learned to live without it. Actually, the veteran Miami Heat forward has learned to thrive in its absence.
“I don’t care,” he continued. “I don’t do highlights. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Winning does. Contributing does. Complementing does, even without the compliments.
It has made Tucker the latest in a Heat lineage of those who have prioritized success over statistics, a pantheon that has included the likes of Keith Askins, P.J. Brown, Bruce Bowen, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Rodney McGruder, and others.
“He’s just a winning player,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, with the Heat turning their attention to Monday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the final stop of a five-game trip. “And that’s probably the shame of it. To the average fan, unless we constantly educate people, no one will have any idea of how many things that he impacts.
“You’ll notice it when he’s on the other team’s best player defensively. But it’s the block-outs, it’s the rotations, it’s the protect-side defense, and then offensively just getting people open constantly. And he does it in every way possible, whether he’s screening pick-and-roll basketball or off-ball screening. He’s just elite in helping guys get open.”
That made Saturday’s victory against the Utah Jazz somewhat of an exception, when Tucker attempted six shots and scored 13 points, along with a team-high 11 rebounds.
Point guard Kyle Lowry, in fact, noticed that, when first shown the postgame box score, laughing that Tucker had the temerity to take that many shots.
“I mean Tuck is one of the hardest-playing guys in the NBA. He should always make All-Defensive team,” Lowry said of the 6-foot-5 energizer. “He’s a guy who has no letup. And no matter how tall he is, he plays at a bigger level. And his intensity of how he plays, how he handles situations, how he handles guarding people, how he handles his communication is awesome.
“He’s a veteran’s veteran, and he’s a pro’s pro. He’s a man. You know what I mean? It’s tough not to want to go in the battlefield with him.”
The selflessness is what impresses teammates.
“PJ is amazing,” guard Duncan Robinson said. “He doesn’t care about literally anything but that scoreboard and he’ll do whatever it takes to win. I mean, he comes up to me and says, ‘My goal is to get you 15 threes.’ He’s just selfless like that. You see the way he competes on defense, rebounds. He just wins all those in-between areas, and he brings a certain level of toughness that I just think sets the tone every single game.
“So just in terms of guys that I’ve played with, he’s certainly one of my favorites, quickly becoming one of my favorites. I mean it’s hard not to love him as a teammate.”
Saturday proved to be a rollercoaster, the Heat leading by 27 early, ahead 22 with 4:23 to play, and then up only four with 14.5 seconds to play before escaping 111-105.
The constant was Tucker making plays for others.
“That’s what winning is,” he said. “It’s enjoying somebody else’s success, and knowing that if all my guys get off, if I can get Duncan wide-open shots, if I can get Kyle open, if I can get Tyler [Herro] open, it makes it easier for me. Then I get open shots. Then I can do the things that I do. So that’s a part of my job.”
In that respect, Tucker said the determination was similar during the three-game losing streak the Heat carried into the game in Utah.
“Just try to figure out what you can do every night to help a team win,” he said. “Even in losses, things you could have done, and things you want to do better. It’s building those things, to try to get better, to win games now to be able to play in the playoffs and having a chance at winning it.”
Lowry, a Tucker teammate in Toronto, said most Heat teammates were aware of Tucker’s uniqueness even before he signed in July as a free agent.
“I think the way he’s played against everybody, I think a lot of guys have played against him,” Lowry said, “and you understand what he’s going to give you every single night. So I think that’s not really a surprise.”