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P.J. Tucker embraces his energy role off the Suns bench

After a five-year hiatus from the NBA, Suns forward P.J. Tucker is happy to be back in the league regardless of what role he’s asked to fill.

Just nine games in, the journeyman — played in Italy, Germany, Israel and Ukraine — has quickly become a fan favorite in the Valley, in large part due to things that don’t show up in the next morning’s box score — hustle and energy.

In Phoenix’s 112-106 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night, Tucker single-handedly came off the bench and out-rebounded Tom Thibodeau’s entire team in the fourth quarter. His active hands also led to a game-tying basket in the final moments of a thrilling fourth quarter.

When asked after practice Thursday why he thrives coming off the bench, the second-year forward out of Texas said he enjoys getting to see the game develop from a far before putting his imprint on the action.

“It’s an advantage coming off the bench,” Tucker said. “You see what’s going on and what we need to do to be able to help the team out. It’s a big plus for me.”

Wednesday night was not the first time Alvin Gentry has played Tucker in a late-game situation. During the Suns’ 26-point comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday, Tucker shut down rookie Dion Waiters over the game’s final four minutes and hit a go-ahead jump shot with 90 seconds remaining.

The former second-round pick also stole the show in Phoenix’s opening night loss to Golden State. Tucker’s 10 points in the second half helped the Suns come back from 17 down, and although the Warriors eventually won the game, Gentry hasn’t been afraid to call on No. 17 when it matters most.

Tucker’s stats — 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game — aren’t gaudy by any means, but for a guy who spent the last five years trying to get back to the league, he admits that he is willing to do the dirty work to stay on the floor.

“I’m the energy guy,” Tucker said of his role on the Suns. “Just try to do all of the little things, play hard and help out guys as much as possible in any way I can.”

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