Nets sweep up defending champion Heat
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MIAMI - Mason Plumlee couldn't even soak up his game-clinching accomplishment, all because his postgame rookie duties were calling from the very moment he stuffed LeBron James' shot to seal the Nets' wild 88-87 victory.
"I just told him big play, but get the towels," Joe Johnson said. "Get your towels, and make sure you get us some Gatorade and water and meet us at the bus."
Hey, he may have helped the Nets complete an improbable four-game regular-season sweep of the two-time defending champions at AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday night. But his status as a rookie hasn't changed.
"That's all part of it," Paul Pierce said. "Even though he had a huge game, national TV, big bucket, big block, he's still got to come in here and carry the bags and get the towels."
Plumlee's jaw-dropping swat capped off a frantic final few precious seconds of a game that didn't have as much sizzle as expected early, since the Heat (53-24) was missing Dwyane Wade and the Nets (43-34) were without the services of Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche.
But those crazy 10.5 seconds at the end had the sellout crowd of 19,600 mostly on its feet, awaiting the Heat's last-ditch attempt to rip the Nets' hearts out. Johnson's missed three-pointer with the Nets holding on to their one-point advantage set the stage for a crazy final sequence.
Ray Allen collected the rebound, found James in transition and he passed it to Rashard Lewis. Lewis passed the ball back to James and it appeared as if Johnson might have tried to take a quick foul to stop James before he elevated to the basket.
"I don't even know how the ball got back in his hands, but I looked and he had the ball," Johnson said.
James went up and Plumlee challenged him, blocking his shot with four seconds remaining, appearing to graze James' right hand on the follow-through.
"It was just a play at the rim," Plumlee said. "He was just coming at me, and really my initial thought was just foul him and make him earn it at the free-throw line. But I just got a piece of the ball, and that made it even better."
But did he hack James in the process? "No," Plumlee said. "I didn't foul him."
James, who had a game-high 29 points, didn't exactly see if that way.
"It was a foul," James said. "That's my thought. I should have been at the line."
The big play was just the latest surprise from the lanky 6-11 rookie whom many believed would be ticketed for the D-League for most of the season. Yet with the injuries to Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett, and Reggie Evans getting shipped off to Sacramento, Plumlee's become a major contributor for a team that's playing as well as any team in the Eastern Conference.
"Oh, he definitely wouldn't have made that play six weeks ago because he probably would have been on the end of the bench," Pierce said. "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."
Deron Williams echoed that sentiment.
"KG kind of took him under his wing," Williams said. "He's a huge part of the team now. We need him. We're going to need him in the playoffs. He adds another dimension. He's athletic. He's young. He gives us another dimension to our bigs."