Last night the New York Knicks sealed a crucial victory over the Brooklyn Nets, blowing them out 110-81. Combined with the Atlanta Hawks’ loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Knicks moved into a tie for eighth place with just six games remaining.
The Knicks were sparked by timely offensive contributions from several players — J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Hardaway Jr., and of course, Carmelo Anthony. But perhaps the most rousing performance of all, the one that really throttled the Knicks out to a double-digit lead in the first half, came from Iman Shumpert.
Shumpert’s struggles this season have been oft-discussed. To say he hasn’t lived up to expectations would be understating his lowly season in which he’s averaging just 6 points per game on 38% shooting. But in arguably the Knicks’ biggest game of the year thus far, Shumpert was ready.
At first, it was Shump’s defensive tenacity. Though the Nets were hardly crisp in their offensive execution, Shumpert checked into the game locked in. At the end of the first quarter, he picked off a pass and lobbed it ahead to Anthony for an open fastbreak dunk. On the ensuing play, he forced a loss ball, and got it to J.R. Smith who sped up the court and found Hardaway Jr. in the corner to sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer. That five-point swing gave the Knicks the momentum going forward.
In the second quarter, Shumpert came up with more big plays. His solid defense and deflections led to some transition opportunities that ignited the crowd. On one play, Shumpert picked off an entry pass and went coast-to-coast for an and-one layup. Later on, he brought the crowd and the bench to its feet by going around the back on Mirza Teletovic, throwing some shake-and-bake in there to hit a reverse layup.
We’ve waited all season for Shumpert to string together more than a couple of good games in a row, but now these final six games would be great. He has the ability to be one of the most impactful players on the court, and the Knicks’ playoff push would mean that much more if they have Shumpert performing like he did last night on a regular basis.
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter.