After dropping Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at home against the Indiana Pacers, the New York Knicks were desperate to knot the series at one game apiece. Things got off to a sluggish start in Game 2, but Knicks swingman Iman Shumpert may have changed the entire complexion of the series with one monstrous dunk.
Chris Copeland missed a three-point attempt early in the second quarter, but the ball bounced fortuitously off the rim and was essentially placed on a tee for Shumpert. The explosive energy player, who is known more for his perimeter defense than anything, made a key offensive play as he followed the miss with a one-handed putback jam.
The Knicks were up by nine at that juncture, but the Madison Square Garden crowd was still apprehensive after how things went in Game 1. Shumpert's dunk almost immediately prompted the fans to release their inhibitions, though, as they were raucous throughout and played a big role in New York's 105-79 destruction of Indiana.
While it may seem like the play just happened within the flow of the game, Shumpert admitted that he was looking to do something huge in order to elevate the crowd as well as his teammates, according to Peter Botte of the New York Daily News.
Yeah, I think I was trying to make a statement, Shumpert said of his latest highlight-reel play in these playoffs. That was the most perfect miss I’ve had in a long time, it just came off (the rim) so perfect. It was beautiful. I just wanted to win this game real bad. I knew we needed this game.
Following the game, Turner Sports' Rachel Nichols posted a picture of Shumpert's epic shoes:
Shumpert's sense of urgency rubbed off on his teammates as they elevated their play. The Knicks did eventually relinquish the big lead that they had built up, but thanks to a fourth quarter that saw them outscore the Pacers 33-13, New York was able to knot the series back up.
If nothing else, Shumpert's dunk likely loosened up the team and allowed it to play a bit more freely. The Knicks seemed tight in Game 1 and that probably had a lot to do with their status as the favorites. That same thing appeared to bother the Knicks in the first round as they nearly blew a 3-0 lead before finishing off the Boston Celtics in Game 6.
New York hasn't been an elite team in years, so it makes sense that the Knicks may not know how to handle it. Shumpert created a ton of energy with that dunk, though, and it allowed the Knicks to play their game. If New York ultimately beats the Pacers and moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals, Shumpert's dunk may very well be viewed as the pivotal play.
It's interesting to note that Shumpert suffered a torn ACL one year ago, yet he is already back making explosive plays for the Knicks in huge games. Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose suffered the same injury on the same day, according to Adam Zagoria of NBA.com, but he has yet to return to the Bulls' lineup.
That isn't to say that Rose is weak in comparison to Shumpert or that he is taking the wrong course of action, but it just goes to show how big of an impact one player can have. Rose is capable of making plays like the one that Shumpert made on Tuesday night and there is no question that he would provide a spark to Chicago's title hopes.
Every great team has highlights en route to a championship, and if the Knicks manage to win it all this year, the enduring image will likely be that of Shumpert and his signature fade flying through the lane and finishing with authority.
The Knicks will have to get through the Pacers in what has now become a best-of-five series first, and that is obviously no easy task. Indiana may play the best team basketball of anyone remaining in the playoffs, but that Shumpert dunk seemed to shell-shock the Pacers to some degree and that should open the door for New York to move on.
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