New York Knicks swingman Iman Shumpert's third NBA season has been a fairly sizable disappointment. Things started off poorly, thanks to a secret offseason knee surgery, and never seemed to get on track. He got mad at himself for unfocused play during the preseason and decided to get a mea culpa preseason haircut, which seemed to have the Samsonian effect of turning him from a swaggering Johnny Bravo type into something more like, I don't know, a 6-foot-5 Piglet at points.
The 2011 first-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech repeatedly found himself included in trade rumors and chatter. It never stopped feeling weird to see Shumpert shopped as New York's best trade asset at the same time as his head coach continued to slough him off, his star teammate got into it with him on the bench, and he made costly late-game errors (in the course of playing good defense on a then-white-hot All-Star, it's worth noting) that made everyone keep doubting him. His confidence all but disappeared, leading to the least productive offensive season of his three-year career — he entered Monday's action making a career-low 38.3 percent of his field goals (including just 33.9 percent from 3-point range, down from a strong 40.2 percent mark last season) and scoring a career-low 9.1 points per 36 minutes of floor time — and mitigating some of his effectiveness as a perimeter defender.
With relatively few exceptions — basically just the Knicks' 2014-opening road trip in Texas — nearly everything that could have gone wrong this year did for Shumpert and the rest of the Knicks. With New York eliminated from playoff contention and heading into Tuesday's cross-borough matchup with the Brooklyn Nets without shut-down-for-the-season forward Carmelo Anthony and with nothing to play for but pride and bragging rights, Shumpert and his teammates went into Barclays Center seeming intent on spoiling the evening — and perhaps a shot at the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference — for the playoff-bound Nets. Shumpert made a pair of pretty flashy contributions to that effort.
With just under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter and the 'Melo-less Knicks out to a 61-48 lead over the Nets, who rarely seemed to care to put up much of an effort in this one, Shumpert attacked Nets forward Paul Pierce off the dribble and shook the surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer out of his sense of equilibrium before dotting him — or, at least, the air where "The Truth" used to be — with a pure midrange jumper:
That's nearly the exact same spot on the floor where Pierce's teammate, Joe Johnson, performed a similar shakedown on the then-Boston Celtics captain at the TD Garden last season:
If this keeps up, Pierce is going to start having up-close-and-personal visions of the right-elbow floorboards in his nightmares.
Shumpert came calling again early in the fourth quarter, with New York leading by 13 and getting out on the fast break after a Brooklyn live-ball turnover. Sparingly used point guard Toure' Murry took the lead pass from sparingly used shooting guard Shannon Brown, saw sparingly used center Jeremy Tyler on his left, but decided to get a little flashy and give Shumpert a chance to unleash his sparingly used big loud dunking ability:
Watching Shumpert actually finish the off-the-glass alley-oop with authority felt somewhat cathartic for Knicks fans — there have been plenty of times where we've seen Shump take flight with malicious intentions, only to fail to finish the flush and stick the landing. After a season full of false starts and frustrating road blocks, you can only hope it felt as good for him, and that he's able to use nights like Tuesday — and votes of confidence like the ones he's reportedly received from new Knicks president Phil Jackson — to put himself on the path to a bounce-back season next year.
Shumpert finished with 11 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists in 31 minutes as the Knicks beat the barely-there Nets, 109-98, to win the season series between the New York clubs three games to one. He was one of six Knicks in double figures, led by rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 16 points on 5 for 10 shooting and highlighted by a career-high 13 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds for center Cole Aldrich.
Playing without starting guard Shaun Livingston and reserves Mirza Teletovic (whose wife gave birth to twins Tuesday) and Alan Anderson, the Nets frequently seemed disinterested in pushing for the victory that would lock up the No. 5 seed in the East.
Marcus Thornton led the way with 24 points on 7 for 15 shooting off the bench, joining rising rookie Mason Plumlee (16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, a few highlight reel-worthy finishes of his own) in providing rare sparks for Jason Kidd's club. The Nets can still clinch the fifth spot with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, but simply getting back on the good foot from a rhythm and flow perspective might be more important than seeding at this stage; Deron Williams left the arena without speaking to reporters after his 10-point, two-assist, three-turnover night, so all does not seem especially well heading into the postseason.
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