At the 8:30 mark of the second quarter, Jason Kidd curled around a Chris Copeland screen at the top of the arc and then he hit Copeland on the pick-and-pop for a shot from downtown.
As the ball sailed through the air, the seas parted to provide a lane for Iman Shumpert. Three Pacers watched the ball hit back iron and then the glorious moment occurred in a matter of seconds that punctuated over 13 months of arduous work.
Forget watching the spectacular highlight. The pure soundtrack of the moment will send chills up your spine. A couple murmurs are heard as the ball bounced off the rim and then with the force of a crushing tidal wave, Shumpert hammered one of the most exhilarating dunks of the 2013 Playoffs. Shumpert launched off his surgically repaired knee just outside the restricted area on a perfectly timed jump to emphatically smash a one-handed tomahawk jam that sent the New York fans into an absolute frenzy.
“I think I was trying to make a statement. That was the most perfect miss. It came off so perfect. It was beautiful. I wanted to win this game so bad. I knew we needed this game,” Shumpert explained.
Sports are filled with stories of redemption and the struggle to regain success when it’s harshly ripped away due to a severe injury. Each player deals with a different set of circumstances but watching a promising rookie fall to the floor on a routine, non-contact play in the first round of the playoffs is downright heartbreaking.
On April 28, 2012, Shumpert dropped to the hardwood at AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami at the tail end of an impressive first-year campaign. Head coach Mike Woodson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and the rest of the Knicks huddled around Shumpert as he clutched his knee in agonizing pain.
The torn ACL was the most significant injury in Shumpert’s life and the road back to basketball seemed eons away. With a chip on his shoulder, Shumpert attacked the rehab process like a full-court press. Over the summer, he returned to Oak Park, Illinois to host his basketball camp, visit his family, and most importantly, continue the taxing process of building strength around his knee.
As the temperature fell, the NBA year started, and Shumpert’s flattop grew with each step towards his first appearance of the 2012-13 season. Back in New York, Shumpert launched jumpers, hit the weights, and was able to place perspective on the injury that sidelined him for a portion of his second year.
“It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me,” Shumpert stated in January. “It’s a frustrating process but every time you reach a milestone, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
The Knicks raced out to a 24-13 record while Shumpert patiently waited for his debut, which eventually took place in London against the Detroit Pistons.
Shumpert understood the implications of his return. It would take time to build back the extreme athleticism that was so prevalent during his rookie year. The 6-5, 220-pound wing man displayed a knack for on-ball defensive pressure that caught the eye of national pundits around the league. He was quickly becoming one of the best defenders in the NBA prior to the injury.
Over the course of his comeback, opposing teams witnessed new wrinkles in Shumpert’s evolving game. All of the sudden, Shumpert developed into a deadly spot-up shooter, hitting 44.4 percent on those opportunities from the 3-point line this year. He damaged opponents by camping out in the corner for the long ball.
The mixture of perimeter shooting, a strong handle, slashing drives to the rim, and elite defensive awareness provides New York with a serious weapon as part of its arsenal that has formed to make a run at the title.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to play in the playoffs. So, I’m just living in the moment right now,” Shumpert confessed.
To be clear, the thrilling one-handed dunk from Shumpert on Tuesday night did not signify he’s back in a cliché examination of his return from the knee injury. The jaw-dropping image of the slam is a simple reminder that Shumpert is a game-altering force living in the moment and his devastating injury is a now a distant memory.