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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Plumlee checkmates King James in Miami

By Mike Mazzeo



Mason Plumlee saw LeBron James coming at him.

But the Brooklyn Nets rookie center didn’t back down.

So what if the best basketball player on the planet -- all 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds of him -- was flying toward the rim, looking to finish off a two-handed, game-winning dunk before the final buzzer sounded?

Plumlee was going to challenge James. He was going to make the Miami Heat superstar earn it.

“You can’t really take time to think, ‘It’s LeBron,’” Plumlee told reporters in Miami. “It’s winning time, so it doesn’t matter if it’s Dwight [Howard], LeBron, whoever. You just have to meet them at the rim.”

The outcome of this meeting was unexpected, to say the least.

Both players jumped almost simultaneously.

Mason Plumlee
The Nets threw an impromptu block party for Mason Plumlee, whose play of the night helped the Nets complete a season-series sweep of the Heat.
And it was Plumlee who came away with the block -- a controversial block at that -- deflecting the ball away from James with his right hand.

Time ran out. James and the Heat were stunned. David had beaten Goliath -- or rather “Plums” had gotten the best of “King James” on a night both teams wore uniforms emblazoned with players' nicknames.

And the Nets had somehow become the first team to complete a four-game, regular-season sweep of Miami during the Big Three era. The final on Tuesday night from AmericanAirlines Arena: Nets 88, Heat 87.

Afterward, Plumlee, who finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes (including a huge layup with 41 seconds left that gave the Nets an 88-85 lead) yelled out, “Let’s Go!”

Meanwhile, all James could do was watch the replay on the JumboTron before heading into the tunnel as the Nets congratulated Plumlee. Upon seeing it, James waved his hand in the air. He wanted a foul. He didn’t get one.

“It was a foul. I saw [the replay] twice. I didn’t need to watch it,” James said. “He grabbed my right hand. He didn’t do it on purpose, but he got my right hand and the ball went off the rim and went back. If he got all ball, the ball would’ve gone straight down. But what are you gonna do about it?”

Plumlee disagreed.

“It only mattered if three people (the officials) thought it was a foul, and they didn’t think it was, so we win,” he said.

It was undoubtedly the biggest play Plumlee has made during his young career.

And to think, everyone figured the 24-year-old first-round pick was going to start the season in the NBA’s Developmental League.

Everyone, that is, except Plumlee, who played his way onto the $190 million roster.

Circumstances eventually changed. Brook Lopez got hurt. So, too, did Kevin Garnett.

LeBron James
The refs left LeBron James hanging with a no-call on the final play.
All of a sudden, opportunity arose. And Plumlee took full advantage of it, starting 19 straight games with Garnett sidelined due to back spasms and averaging 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds on 64.7 percent shooting in 21.1 minutes.

“He definitely wouldn't have made that play six weeks ago because he probably would have been on the end of the bench,” Nets forward Paul Pierce said, laughing. “But, you know, he's been playing, getting the experience, having better awareness to the ball, and that's what I've been trying to tell him:

“‘It's not about who your man is, you know, you've got to be the help. It may not be your man going to the hole, but you see another man and you're the big man. You've got to clog up the paint.’ And he's been doing a fantastic job of that.”

Plumlee, who started again on Tuesday night because Garnett was resting, leads all first-year pros in Player Efficiency Rating -- and at least merits consideration for the league’s Rookie of the Year award, even if his statistics don’t exactly jump off the page.

“He's maturing and the good thing about him: He listens,” Pierce said. “He has an open ear to all the veterans on this team. And it shows. He's coachable, he gets his work in and he's improving every night and that's what we need from him. He's played a big role for us [now] that Kevin's been out, that Brook went down, and it's just a testament of his hard work and how he's come a long.

“At the beginning of the year, training camp, everybody talked about he probably was going to be in the D-League. Now he's here, 70-something games in, playing big minutes for us, and playing a huge role.”

Plumlee takes the subway to home games. His rookie duties usually include making all his teammates peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

On Tuesday night, Joe Johnson told Plumlee: “‘Get your towels and make sure you get us some Gatorade and water and meet us at the bus.’”

This after getting the game-winning block on James. Not bad.

“In preseason and first time he played he was like a chicken with his head cut off, running around,” Deron Williams said. “Now he’s figured things out. He’s learning.

“At this point, it’s almost like he’s not a rookie, even though he is a rookie still.”