MIAMI — Rodney McGruder has played in just 55 NBA games, but he’s already earned a reputation.
“He gets under your skin,” teammate Dion Waiters said. “I think sometimes in this league people don’t understand that it’s about how hard you go. Rod, they probably overlook him coming into the game. But you know on that night that he’s going to make you work. He doesn’t care who you are.”
McGruder’s defensive assignment was four-time All-Star Paul George on Saturday night.
George finished with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting, one rebound, one assist and four turnovers. He also finished with two technical fouls, as he was ejected with 8:49 remaining in the third quarter of the Heat’s 113-95 win over the Pacers.
Miami has now won 16 of its past 18 games as it looks to continue its winning ways Monday in Dallas against the Mavericks.
McGruder was involved in both of George’s technical fouls.
It began with 10:45 remaining in the third quarter when McGruder and George were assessed double technicals for a minor shoving match. McGruder didn’t believe the technical was warranted.
“Just play on,” McGruder said of the call. “He shoved me, I just shoved him back. I felt like that was a quick technical.”
George’s second technical came two minutes later after he felt he was fouled by McGruder on a missed 3-pointer. George dribbled the basketball and shouted expletives at referee Gary Zielinski, drawing his second technical and ejection.
Zielinski told a pool reporter the second technical was for “using profanity.”
“It’s not like I said something derogative to him,” George said of Zielinski. “I said, ‘It’s a (expletive) foul!’ He was a puppet with (Miami coach Erik) Spoelstra in his ear and he called it.”
While McGruder didn’t believe the first technical should have been called, he understands why George was smacked with his second technical. The Heat outscored the Pacers 49-37 on their way to the victory after George was ejected.
“I feel like you shouldn’t be able to talk to [the referees] like that anyway,” McGruder said. “But it is what it is.”
McGruder added that there was no ongoing conversation between him and George during the game, just physical play. Physical play that bothered George.
“He’s like the heart and soul of our team,” Waiters said of McGruder. “He goes extremely hard and he guards the best players and he makes them work. Tonight Paul George probably just wasn’t up for that or ready for that. That’s just who Rodney is and how he plays. You have to respect that man.”
It’s only right that McGruder has earned this reputation. The 25-year-old guard also earned his way onto the Heat’s roster, as he won Miami’s 15th and final roster spot in the preseason over Beno Udrih and Briante Weber because of his toughness.
“I’m just trying to go out there and compete and have fun and do whatever my team needs me to do,” McGruder said. “If you need me to be a pest, I will be for sure.”
Since making the 15-man roster, all McGruder has done is take on the NBA’s most challenging defensive assignments. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, McGruder has already been asked to defend stars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and George in his rookie season.
“Not really,” McGruder said when asked if he tries to get under his opponent’s skin. “I just try to play. If that happens then I win. But that’s not what I’m looking to do.”
McGruder, who went undrafted out of Kansas State in 2013, is just looking to make it a tough night for his opponent. That’s his goal, even when he’s defending one of the NBA’s superstars.
“Paul George is a great player,” Heat forward James Johnson said. “Rodney McGruder don’t care.”