How P.J. Tucker's corner offense greased the wheels for the Heat in Game 5

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The second offensive possession of Game 5 was a tone-setter of sorts for the Miami Heat as they sought to retake control of their conference semifinal against the Philadelphia 76ers.

P.J. Tucker set a weak-side pindown for Max Strus while Gabe Vincent and Bam Adebayo ran a middle pick-and-roll. However, Philadelphia successfully defended the action with no advantage conceded. In what became a theme throughout the night, the ball was then swung to Tucker in the corner, where James Harden guarded him. Tucker immediately pivoted into a dribble-handoff with Strus on the wing. Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey did well to stay attached and deflect the ball, which gave Harden time to hedge and recover back to Tucker.

But Tucker wasn't keen to let Harden off the hook. He reversed the ball to Vincent up top and then dragged Harden into another ball-screen action. The Sixers seemed to get the coverage mixed up this time, with both Harden and Danny Green sticking with Vincent as Tucker rolled into open space. Joel Embiid stepped up to challenge, but Tucker lofted a floater over him to put Miami on the board.


The play wasn't a precursor to some kind of scoring outburst from Tucker. Still, it established a template for Miami's offense, which had scuffled in Games 3 and 4 on the road to allow Philadelphia to tie the series 2-2. The Heat spent the rest of the contest playing with newfound zip, spurred by quick decision-making and perpetual motion. The ball never stuck, and one action constantly flowed into the next.

Miami produced a 129 offensive rating - its best single-game mark of the postseason so far - after managing just 100.5 for Games 3 and 4. The Heat achieved much of that motion, connectivity, and decisiveness by running more of their stuff through Tucker.

After notching just two assists combined in the first four contests of the series, Tucker finished with a game-high (and playoff career-best) seven assists in Game 5. That tally wasn't indicative of the 3-and-D specialist suddenly morphing into a wizardly passer but more about how Miami structured its offense.

With Kyle Lowry back on the shelf with a nagging hamstring injury, the Heat had to redistribute a bunch of offensive possessions. A large chunk of them went to the typical ball-handlers, but some also went to Tucker. In Miami's two losses, the bowling-ball forward averaged 19 frontcourt touches. He recorded 26 in the Game 5 win, according to NBA Advanced Stats. Tucker and the Heat made remarkably efficient use of those touches, turning them into 28 points via Tucker's baskets (he shot 4-for-6 from the field and 2-for-2 from deep) and those he created for others.

"I knew we had to move the ball," Tucker told reporters after his unlikely playmaking turn. "When we get the ball moving side-to-side, I don't think anybody can guard us. … My job, when I get the opportunity, is to try to move it, and that's what I was trying to do tonight."

Before this season, Tucker had effectively been a stationary offensive player for the bulk of his career. His responsibilities didn't extend much beyond spotting up in the corner and hoisting catch-and-shoot threes when the ball found him, and crashing the offensive glass when it didn't. But Miami has empowered Tucker to make plays on the move, and he's proven capable of doing so, whether as a passer or a short-roll finisher (like on the play cited above). Game 5 illustrated the good things that can happen when Tucker is put into motion.

To be clear, that motion still began from Tucker's usual haunt. Six of his seven assists came on plays he initiated out of the corner, with the other one being a hit-ahead he threw to Butler after coming up with a steal. The corner is the only spot on the floor where Tucker has legitimate gravity. He's hit 50% of his corner threes in the playoffs after making 41% during the regular season. The Heat have used that magnetism - along with Tucker's canny, physical screen-setting - to shift the court's geometry and create openings for his teammates:


On the first possession in Game 5, Tucker sprung Victor Oladipo by essentially screening Green and Harden at the same time. The second was just a blown coverage from Maxey on the handoff to Gabe Vincent. But movement creates those mistakes, and Tucker put Maxey back on his heels by running into the catch and then getting into the handoff without breaking stride.

At times, Tucker also leveraged the threat of the handoff to create his own scoring opportunities:


To call back to that second possession of the game, Tucker and Strus particularly played in lockstep all night. Miami consistently kept them on the same side of the floor, which made it difficult for the Sixers to split the difference between the pair after sending a defender from their side to help on a drive or tag the roller.

Philly made a point of keeping Strus under wraps in Games 3 and 4 and went as far as to face-guard him at times. But Strus shook loose in Game 5 thanks partly to the connective tissue provided by Tucker, whose quick corner-to-wing swing passes beat the Sixers' X-outs. Strus was also instrumental in creating Tucker's two 3-pointers in the contest, first with a baseline cut and kickout that broke Philly's zone and then a loop cut that opened up a passing lane for Butler to hit Tucker in the corner:


Tucker is primarily known for his defense, but his offensive impact has also been profound this postseason. The Heat have scored nearly six more points per 100 possessions with him on the court than when he's been on the bench. The corner has long been Tucker's home at that end of the floor, but he's showing the skill to use it beyond just catching and shooting. Miami has another opportunity to reap the benefits Thursday in Philadelphia.

How P.J. Tucker's corner offense greased the wheels for the Heat in Game 5
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