So I didn’t come out of Sunday’s loss to the Celtics particularly worried.
As I wrote on Twitter, unless you believe J.R. Smith isn’t coming back on Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony no longer knows how to make shots, and a season-long ability to limit turnovers and make threes have disappeared- and all of these things need to be true, since the Knicks forced overtime Sunday anyhow- the Knicks are going to be fine in this series, and it almost certainly ends Wednesday night at MSG.
Assuming this is true, what is particularly interesting to me is Iman Shumpert’s Game 4.
The Knicks needed more from Shumpert Sunday, in Smith’s absence, and they got it. He played 44 minutes, a season-high. He scored 12 points, with many of them coming on drives to the basket. He looked more comfortable doing that than he has all season. And those forays to the paint didn’t lead to empty possessions; he didn’t have a single turnover Sunday.
Add the 12 rebounds, the hounding defense, the two steals and two blocks, and Shumpert gave the Knicks the prototypical small forward performance they’ve needed all season.
Again, let’s assume this team is about to knock off the Celtics. To the extent they can go deep into the playoffs, having Smith and Shumpert around to properly man the 2/3 for most of the game will allow Anthony to concentrate on his duties at power forward. The more Anthony needs to also do things like, for instance, guard Dwayne Wade/LeBron James, or take his own shots and some portion of what should be Smith/Shumpert contributions to the offense, the more compromised Anthony and the Knicks are.
To beat most teams, Smith alone has sufficed. To challenge Miami, the Knicks really need post-surgery Shumpert to put his recovery in the rear view mirror.
Sunday afternoon, Shumpert seemed to do that as completely as he has since his return. This isn’t a shock; each day puts his surgery further and further away, timewise.
Shumpert missed a three with under two minutes to go in overtime, and the Knicks tied with the Celtics, 88-88. Jason Terry came back and hit his. That was essentially the ballgame.
Had Shumpert made his three, I think more people would be focused today on his rebirth. But if the assumptions up top hold true, Shumpert’s Game 4 performance means a whole lot more to this season; Sunday will be the footnote.