Iman Shumpert had played a grand total of zero minutes in the postseason coming into the second half on Monday night, but a hamstring injury to J.R. Smith forced Tyronn Lue’s hand and Shump was inserted along with the starters and thrown to the wolves to guard Paul George as his reward for his playing time.
Shumpert, who has played with an inconsistent level of energy and focus on both ends of the court this season, got after it right away with a few tough defensive plays, and made a jumper. He even functionally tackled Paul George while going for a loose ball after he stripped the Pacers star.
Great hustle and notice how Shumpert creates space by leading with shoulder pic.twitter.com/3KO6rYxxkv— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 18, 2017
Shumpert clearly was happy to be in the game, and his energy helped lead the Cavaliers in a third quarter the team outscored Indy 33-20. His teammates and coach clearly took notice, including Channing Frye, who chalked it up to Shump’s eating habits.
“I don’t know what that guy ate. Was it just jalapeños?” Frye said.
“But he did a great job. I think Paul George is an amazing athlete. I mean, he’s unbelievably good. It’s just making his life difficult and I think Shump did a great job of stepping in . . . I think he deserves the game ball”
Paul George was again torching the Cavaliers, with 18 first-half points, and Tyronn Lue discussed how (primarily) Shumpert’s defense helped take him out of rhythm.
“Shump was unbelievable. Just staying ready, being a professional,” Tyronn Lue said after the game.
“He came in and made it tough on Paul George, and we held Paul George to four points in that third quarter, where our defense was really good. Shump sparked that, made a couple shots for us also.”
Shumpert has been a guy who has, under the radar, been accused of lacking focus professionally. He’s been dangled in trade rumors before, and a budding rap career and very public persona haven’t given Shump’s professionalism the best rep.
Given his benching, it was fair to wonder what kind of mentality he was maintaining, and his energy in the win was a perfect answer to that question.
“It’s a step in the right direction of just being a consummate professional, especially on a team like this,” Kyrie Irving said at the podium in the postgame press conference.
“We have so many pieces on this team but everyone has to stay ready. He had that mindset, came and execute. It’s hard to come off the bench right out of halftime. We just need Shump to stay focused and understand the task at hand, and I think he did a good job of that tonight.”
The Cavaliers did eventually let up in the fourth quarter, and the Pacers scored 33 points to get the game close again. Lue simply rode Shumpert way too hard, as he played 20 of the 24 minutes in the second half, even as the Cavaliers offense died in the fourth quarter, crunched by the lack of spacing provided by Shumpert in concert with Tristan Thompson.
Cavs 4Q oRTG was 69.2 in the 8 minutes Shump and Tristan played but y'all keep complaining about the defense— Mike Zavagno (@MZavagno11) April 18, 2017
That said, if Shumpert can be counted on to produce at even an average level, it should help the Cavaliers weather any short-term injury to J.R. Smith. Until J.R.’s return though, it’ll be Shumpert tasked with tough defensive assignments. We’ll see if he can remain locked in on that end to make an impact.