Iman Shumpert had his best game of the season against the Spurs. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
It's been a frustrating season for Iman Shumpert, a disappointing campaign marked by reports of a secret knee surgery, persistent trade rumors, a self-flagellating haircut, apparent tiffs with head coach Mike Woodson and star teammate Carmelo Anthony, costly late-game miscues and routinely poor offensive performances. Heading into Thursday's visit to the AT&T Center to take on the 25-7 San Antonio Spurs — who spanked the Knicks by 31 at Madison Square Garden back in November — Shumpert had shot just 23.4 percent from the floor and 19.4 percent from 3-point range over his last 12 games, averaging just 3.5 points in nearly 25 minutes per game.
He needed a breakout game in the worst possible way ... and he had one on Thursday night, finding a rhythm early and coming up with a number of big plays throughout, including two huge baskets in the final minute:
The first came with just under a minute left and the score knotted at 98 following a missed Tony Parker layup. As Knicks point guard Beno Udrih drove toward the paint, a recovering Parker raced back on defense and stripped the ball, sending Udrih, Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard, Anthony, Spurs reserve Manu Ginobili and Parker diving to the floor in search of the loose ball. It was Shumpert who came up with it, though, before kicking it to teammate J.R. Smith in the backcourt.
Smith had been surprisingly gun shy to that point in the night — he took just five shots in 29 minutes of playing time — but with both teams scrambling and just nine seconds left on the shot clock, it seemed all but certain that he'd be the one hoisting a shot on this possession. It sure seemed like the Spurs expected him to, considering the attention he drew from Leonard and Parker as he dribbled toward the foul line. But as Parker stunted into the paint, Smith passed to a wide-open Shumpert on the left wing, who rose up and drained his sixth 3-pointer of the game to give the Knicks a 3-point lead.
After Belinelli — who was sensational offensively — answered mere seconds later with a straight-ahead 3 on a wonderful after-timeout play drawn up by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich that tied the game at 101, the Knicks triggered an inbounds play of their own with 34.1 seconds left. Udrih inbounded to Anthony, who drove on Leonard from above the arc toward the left elbow. Ginobili shaded over to help from the near-side corner, so Anthony pitched to Smith, and the two worked a quick bit of two-man action that resulted in Anthony taking a corner 3 over Ginobili's outstretched arm.
The shot missed, but none of the three Spurs in the paint got a body on Shumpert, who streaked in from the top of the key to grab the offensive rebound and score an athletic put-back layup that gave the Knicks a 103-101 lead with 23.4 seconds left. Belinelli's 3-point try on the ensuing Spurs possession came up empty, and a pair of Anthony free throws finished off a 105-101 victory that gave the Knicks their first win of the season over a Western Conference opponent.
Anthony finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in his return from a sprained left ankle that had kept him out for the previous three games, But the story of the night was Shumpert, who busted loose for a career-high 27 points on 10 for 13 shooting, including a 6 for 8 mark from 3-point range, to go with six rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes. In his six previous games combined, he'd scored 26 points on 10 for 34 shooting from the field and 3 for 16 from long distance.
The Georgia Tech product scored eight points in seven minutes and 18 seconds of fourth-quarter playing time. He'd scored eight or fewer points in 21 of his 30 appearances total heading into Thursday. It's the sort of bigger-than-expected performance Shumpert delivered for the Knicks against the Indiana Pacers during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals back in May, and while it's not something that Woodson and company are likely to see night in and night out from the third-year guard, it sure was a welcome sight on Thursday for a team desperate to get off a three-game schneid and put something positive together.
Video via frank den.
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