NBA

NBA Playoffs 2021: P.J Tucker finally gets over the hump in longstanding battle with Kevin Durant

The Milwaukee Bucks have been no stranger to a midseason acquisition, searching for that final missing piece of the championship puzzle.

In 2019, it was George Hill and then Nikola Mirotic. In 2020, it was Marvin Williams.

While those moves didn't lead to a ring, it hasn't stopped Bucks GM Jon Horst from working the phones.

In the lead-up to this year's trade deadline, Horst went to work again, dumping the multi-year contract of D.J. Augustin along with DJ Wilson and a first-round pick in a deal that centered around veteran PJ Tucker.

An unknown quantity due to a bumpy start to the season in Houston, that saw James Harden traded and the franchise enter a tailspin, the best-case scenario for Milwaukee was using the hard nosed defensive mindset of Tucker in a grind-it-out seven-game playoff series.

The second round brought that matchup, with Kevin Durant his opponent throughout the series. With the Bucks trailing 2-0 and their season on the brink of disaster in Game 3, it was Tucker who went nose-to-nose with Durant, as each player barked in the other's face.

It was the type of moment you would never see from anyone else on the roster, and it typified Tucker's fight through seven games.

"What he brings us is just, there's a toughness that is infectious," head coach Mike Budenholzer said.

"I thought our group was tough before Tuck got here but he just brings it to that next level. We put him on the great players, the great wings, really anybody. There's a physicality that can wear on people, wear on screeners. He's been huge for us."

It's not to say Tucker stopped Durant, in fact, it was far from that, with the Brooklyn superstar still averaging 35 points per game including a masterful 48 in Game 7, but he made him work for every single shot. He bothered him. He harassed him. In a way that only Tucker could.

"It's painful. That was a battle every single night," Tucker said of the matchup with Durant.

"I don't know if I've ever brought that much every single night, physically, emotionally, it was a toll. That's why the day seemed so long. A player like Kevin, there's no time off, you can't relax for one second. It was a fun series just battling and being able to finally get over the hump against him was pretty nice."

For all Tucker's hard work, the greatness of Durant nearly trumped it all, with his impossible jump shot at the end of regulation seemingly lifting the Nets to a series win, only for his toe to be on the 3-point line.

"My big ass foot was on the line," Durant lamented. For Tucker, he could only admire the greatness of the moment.

"Honestly, I just wanted to make sure he didn't shoot a three. When I cut him off I thought he would one foot or step back but when he spun he threw me off. That shot was an incredible, I can appreciate the level of difficulty of that shot. It was incredible and I laughed after he made it. I appreciated it being a fan of the game," Tucker said with a shake of the head.

Back to the trade. Tucker admits he takes enjoyment out of the fact the Bucks have now eliminated Miami and Brooklyn on their way to the Conference Finals, two teams he seriously considered joining, before ultimately deciding on the Bucks.

"It's a lot for me, it really is a lot. Knowing the way my season started, knowing where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. Trying to decide where I wanted to go and what situation would work. To be able to come here and beat the other two teams I was looking to go to and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, it's a lot for me. I'm just happy."

"I'm a fan of the game, I've watched them over the years. I've seen them and my agent and my friends have always said I would fit at the Bucks. When I looked at the roster it just made sense. I'm definitely happy with my decision."

So are the Bucks, who are hoping their run has plenty of stories left to be told.

"We're just getting started, there's a lot of work to do," Tucker said.

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