The Blazers were thoroughly outclassed by the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night in their second game this season without Damian Lillard. One of the few bright spots of the night was the first half play of Mason Plumlee.
Portland's starting center was very active, collecting 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists before halftime. His solid defense against Pelicans' superstar Anthony Davis, and opportunistic transition offense kept Portland within striking distance for two quarters.
Plumlee's first impressive play came early in the first quarter when Davis received an entry pass on the mid-block. Davis faced up and dribbled left for a dunk but was met by Plumlee at the rim for the clean block.
Davis is one of the most athletic players in the league - see this dunk from later in the game for evidence. Plumlee's ability to use lateral quickness to stay with Davis and then jump high enough to cleanly block the dunk showed elite agility and athleticism.
Late in the second quarter Plumlee stopped Davis on the low block again:
On this play, Plumlee stifles Davis' initial move by bodying up to AD before he can get to the baseline (nice footwork too!). When Davis' move is cut off he is caught slightly off-balance and struggles to control the ball. Plumlee recognizes that and uses quick hands to poke the ball away before Davis can gather. Great defensive awareness!
Earlier in the second quarter Plumlee made his most impressive play of the entire first half:
This play shows all of Plumlee's strengths. He flashes to challenge an initial pass to his man, then correctly judges that he can challenge a second entry pass while still having time to recover once the New Orleans guard changes strategy. Once Davis does get the ball Plumlee maintains contact as Davis initiates his post move. By bodying up Plumlee prevents a drive and also maintains control of his position, keeping Davis out of the lane. Once Davis goes into his counter moves Plumlee keeps his feet planted and challenges only the makeable shots - basically, he doesn't bite on any fakes. Now Davis is forced to shoot over Plumlee from an awkward angle, and when he does Plumlee stays completely vertical so as to challenge the shot without fouling.
Plumlee's play in the first half tonight was phenomenal; stopping Davis on the block three times is no small feat. Unfortunately this type of consistency has largely been absent for Plumlee so far this season. He can be a decent help defender when he is in position, but he has struggled to translate that athleticism into consistent low post defense. Too often Plumlee allows himself to be bullied by larger players, losing position and giving up back to the basket scores.
He may never stop ultra physical players like Greg Monroe in the post, but Wednesday night's performance shows that he has the right mix of athleticism, defensive fundamentals, and decision making to improve his defensive reputation significantly. Portland's coaches should show Plumlee tonight's game film and implore him to bring this same mix of skills to every play of every game, and not just select moments.
As we related on Monday, hundreds of tickets at a time are being requested for Blazer's Edge Night, the event where we send 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th. Those kids will get to go as long as we donate enough tickets to them. It's easy! You can donate through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.