Shump thumps Celtics' rally, saves Knicks

Iman Shumpert's fourth-quarter heroics put an end to a potentially devastating 20-0 Celtics run. David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON -- This can't be real.

Those were Iman Shumpert's first thoughts when Jeff Green sank a free throw to cut the Knicks' 26-point lead down to six midway through the fourth quarter.

At that point, the hometown Celtics seemed destined to complete their comeback and leave Shumpert and the Knicks on the wrong end of one of the worst playoff collapses in NBA history.

"It felt like it wasn't real," he said.

Just like that, though, Shumpert's bad dream turned into the Celtics' worst nightmare.

On Boston's next possession, Shumpert sniffed out a lazy Paul Pierce pass and pounced.

He deflected the ball, gathered it around midcourt and darted ahead for a layup to snap what seemed like a series-altering run by the Celtics.

"Luckily, I was able to deflect it and give us a little breathing room," Shumpert said.

He did so much more than that, though. With the steal, Shumpert ended the Celtics' 20-0 run, silenced the Boston crowd (for a moment) and put the Knicks on the path to their series-clinching win. He also saved the Knicks from what would have been a gut-wrenching collapse.

New York had led this first-round series 3-0 but missed two opportunities to close it out. In Game 6, the Knicks built a 26-point lead but seemed on the verge of implosion. But Shumpert stepped in front of the Pierce pass and effectively dissipated the doomsday atmosphere.

Of course, the Celtics still made a game of it, cutting the lead to four twice before Carmelo Anthony found his shot late and sealed the win.

But players and coaches on both sides mentioned Shumpert's steal and layup as the sequence that swung the momentum.

Mike Woodson called it "one of the biggest plays down the stretch."

Doc Rivers took it one step further.

"Shumpert, tonight, was their best player," Rivers said. "I thought he single-handedly willed that game for them."

Outside of Anthony, who made it to the second round for the second time in his career with Friday's win, it's hard to think of a Knick who cherished the victory more than Shumpert.

Last spring, Shumpert seemed destined for a breakout postseason but suffered a torn left ACL and lateral meniscus in the opening game of the playoffs. The injury left Shumpert -- then a rookie brimming with confidence -- crumpled on the court and in tears.

He underwent surgery shortly thereafter and started an eight-month recovery process that kept him off of the court until mid-January. He wasn't himself early on; both his knee strength and self-confidence were diminished.

Shumpert's name was even dangled in trade rumors in the days leading up to the February deadline. But the second-year guard started to look more like himself after the deadline. He entered the playoffs with his knee at less than 100 percent, which was more than OK.

"It’s good enough to play," he said last week, "so I've got to go out there and make plays."

He did just that on Friday night.

In addition to his lockdown defense on the perimeter, Shumpert also hit a few big perimeter shots and pulled down six boards.

He finished with 17 points, including a deep 3-pointer with 41 seconds to play in the third to give the Knicks a 20-point lead. After hitting the shot, Shumpert mocked Jason Terry by doing Terry's "Jet" celebration -- arms spread to mimic the wings of plane -- while running down the sideline.

He said it was in response to what Terry did to him in Game 5.

"[Terry] sort of flew over me and disrespected me, and I kind of had it in the back of my head the entire game," he said.

From there, the Knicks' Jet took off and might have altered his team's season.

"It's an incredible feeling," Shumpert said afterward. "I'm just glad to be able to move to the second round."

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