Marshall Plumlee had gone 34 days, some 816 hours and about 48,900 seconds without playing for the Knicks until coach Jeff Hornacek inserted the 7-foot rookie center into Wednesday night’s game in Boston.
Plumlee responded by playing 20 minutes, scoring five points, grabbing seven rebounds and was a plus-11 in the Knicks’ 117-106 win over the Celtics.
It begs the question, ‘How does any athlete stay sharp when he hasn’t played in an NBA game for more than a month?”
“For me, my work ethic and my habits are pretty solidified, I’m going to put the work in’’ Plumlee told MSGNetworks.com.
“The bigger challenge is staying prepped mentally, and staying mentally engaged and excited about each and every game. But I’ll say coach Hornacek has made that really easy for me this year because he’s done a great job of talking with me, keeping me encouraged even when I’m not playing. He coaches me as if I was playing.”
Plumlee has been playing mostly for the Westchester Knicks of the NBA Development League. He has been called up and sent down so often, no one could blame Plumlee for wondering if he had become a forgotten man.
So it helped when the man that has won 13 NBA titles – two as a member of the Knicks and 11 as a coach – offered Plumlee some advice.
“Phil Jackson pulled me aside before I started doing my D-League assignments and he said it’s a great opportunity for me to get better,’’ Plumlee said. “He was very sincere. He didn’t want me to lose ties with the team. He wanted me to be very engaged, mentally and emotionally with what was going on.”
“So he recommended I find a couple of my closest friends on the team, talk to them every game about what went down and what were the emotions in the locker room. That was really sage advice. It’s helped me stay in tune, even when I’m not there physically.”
Plumlee rides to games with fellow rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas. They’re the two “old” rookies. Plumlee is 24 and Kuz is 27. They share a more common view of the world and NBA life than one-and-doners or younger rookies.
The opportunity to play in the NBA is not lost on them.
“Marshall loves to be in the weight room, stay in shape and take care of his body so he’ll always be fresh,” said his brother Mason, a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. “They let him get his foot in the door and that’s all he needed.”
Plumlee has only played five games for the Knicks this season so it might seem a little foolish to state that his stats against Boston were all career highs. That’s not the point.
Anyone that has gone on a two-week vacation, or been out of work for a week with a cold, knows how difficult that first day back can be.
Imagine being gone for more than a month.
“I don’t think you have to worry about Marshall,’’ Hornacek said. “He’s ready every time he comes to practice. That’s what we love about him. The coaches, we talk about it all the time, ‘How do we get Marshall in there?”
“In practices, he brings energy. He’s talking. He’s calling out coverages. He’s the guy that we know is always going bring the energy – practices, games, whatever it is. We have a team breakfast or a team lunch, he’s got that energy in there, too.”
Plumlee knew when he signed with the Knicks that minutes would be hard to come by. Center Joakim Noah was one of the team’s top off-season acquisitions. Kyle O’Quinn is having one of the best seasons of his career.
Porzingis was unable to play against Boston because of soreness in his Achilles’ tendon. Noah was nursing a sprained ankle.
Plumlee got the call.
He had to take an Amtrak train Wednesday morning to get to Boston in time for the game.
“They keep it interesting for me,’’ Plumlee joked with reporters.
He was ready to play for the first time since Dec. 15, when he played just two minutes at the Golden State Warriors. Prior to Wednesday, he had not played in 16 straight Knicks games.
But Plumlee has had experience in learning how to be ready when your name is called.
In his Duke career, he scored 20 or more points just once in his senior season. But when the Blue Devils opened play in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, they found themselves in a battle with UNC-Wilmington.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski had some harsh words for the team, especially Plumlee, at halftime. Plumlee responded by scoring a career-high 23 points (19 in the second half) on 9-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Plumlee knows his playing time could evaporate soon. Porzingis played 11 minutes in the team’s loss to Washington on Thursday night and grabbed three rebounds. Noah is on the mend.
But the lessons Plumlee learned from Coach K are helping him, as is the support he’s getting from Hornacek and Jackson.
“It’s something he taught me over my time at Duke,” Plumlee said of Krzyzewski. “Always be ready because you never know when your team is going to need you to step up. The opportunity is going to come. That’s just the nature of the beast.”