LA Clippers in review: Mason Plumlee excels as backup center

Mason Plumlee, LA Clippers - Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Mason Plumlee, LA Clippers - Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Clippers have desperately needed a reliable backup center to start their 2022-23 campaign. Enter Mason Plumlee, a sky-scraping, sculpted specimen that dunks and rebounds for a living and altruistically donates dimes on the side.

And just like that one of the team’s biggest prayers was answered.

Prior to this season, the Clippers were never really concerned with a lack of talent at the number five spot. In fact, it was probably the position they least had to stress about. Ivica Zubac has been a consistent starter for five seasons; Montrezl Harrell gave an offensive spark off the bench in the 2019-20 season; the sharp-shooting Serge Ibaka, once-ever-so-dominant DeMarcus Cousins and the young Isaiah Hartenstein added depth in their respective tenure in Los Angeles.

But after losing their high-jumping backup center to New York in last year’s free agency, the Clippers found themselves without a legitimate center to pair alongside Zubac. Moses Brown wasn’t dependable and Moussa Diabate has yet to adapt to the pace and physicality of the NBA.

Throughout the season, head coach Tyronn Lue tried many different strategies to address the team’s lack of a backup center, one of which was to go small. Though it did once prove to be a winning gamble (for instance, the second-round series against the Utah Jazz in 2021), it was no longer an effective replacement for a center.

It didn’t work for a couple of reasons. The two forwards most frequently used to defend the opposing center — veterans Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. — weren’t having the best offensive or defensive years of their careers. And more notably, playing players out of position for 20 minutes a night for a grueling 82-game season probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

So, the acquisition of a true center — standing at six-foot-11 and over 250 pounds heavy — was the best thing the Clippers could have done. Sporting a noticeable black eye from his last game with the Charlotte Hornets, Plumlee went straight to work in Clipper threads.

Mason Plumlee was everything the LA Clippers could have asked for

In 17 minutes of play against the Golden State Warriors, Mason Plumlee knocked down all two of his field-goal attempts and four of his foul shots for the LA Clippers. Alongside his eight efficient points, the Duke product rose up for five rebounds and threaded the needle for three assists — nothing magical, but just what the Clippers needed.

A few acrobatic finishes and no-look assists later, Plumlee showed that he could be more than just a few points and a few rebounds.

In a win-or-go-home game against the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers’ backup big was the motor behind the team’s comeback — down 20 points to start the final quarter, the Clippers clawed their way back with a 36-18 run.

While their comeback efforts did fall short, Plumlee, alongside Terance Mann and Nicolas Batum, made sure they didn’t go down without a fight. Plumlee finished the game with 20 points (nine in the fourth, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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In his ten seasons in the league, the 33-year-old center showcased all that he has: jaw-dropping passes, exhilarating dunks and game-sealing rebounds. But in just a couple dozen games for the Clips, he’s showing that he is more than just mystical passes and crowd-shushing dunks. At least in LA, he is a floor-diving, unwavering veteran center that will put the team above himself — even when things feel unfeasible, there’s no quit in his books.