NEW YORK -- Iman Shumpert was back at Madison Square Garden with his trademark hair standing a tad higher than before, which was already skyscraper-like to begin with.
The only thing bigger than Shumpert's hair was the Broadway-size smile on his face after connecting with J.R. Smith on an alley-oop that lit up Madison Square Garden during the Cavaliers' 101-83 victory over the Knicks.
The two former Knicks shipped to Cleveland last month returned to MSG with their new team and could not be happier with their situation, as evidenced by their celebration near midcourt after Smith’s scintillating alley-oop.
Shumpert saw Smith going backdoor and threw a low and fast alley-oop pass. As Smith was streaking toward the basket on the right baseline, he jumped, caught the ball chest-high and proceeded to throw down a nasty reverse pump dunk all in one motion, igniting a buzz throughout the Garden.
Smith's acrobatic dunk -- easily one of the best slams this season at the Garden -- pushed the Cavs up 89-59 with 9:16 remaining. As the Knicks called timeout, Smith ran back toward the Cavs bench only to be mobbed by Shumpert, who was beaming with joy. LeBron James then came over and hugged Smith as well not far from where Knicks president Phil Jackson sits near center court.
Over by the Cavs bench, all the players were looking up at the Garden big screen to see the replay.
“I even told him in the timeout, 'Thank you for the price of admission,'" Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “That was special, and really nice too, that it was here in New York, a team where J.R. has been a part of, a lot of people appreciate what he’s done and what he does. I thought he played really, really well. That was great.”
Smith drew more cheers than boos when he was introduced last for the Cavs in the starting introductions. Smith, who spent three-plus seasons with the Knicks and was named Sixth Man of the Year in 2013, kissed his hands and then touched the floor to show his love for the Garden.
“I look at it as a place I can always call home,” said Smith, who hit 7 of 11 shots and scored 17 points. “For me, it actually is being from Jersey/New York area, it is very emotional with family and friends, people you built relationships every day with, just the ushers and the people you come up with the elevators and would push the button for you, the little people. That was my main focus today.”
Shumpert, who was drafted by the Knicks in the first round in 2011, said once he came back from injury and played in Cleveland that he was able to absorb the fact that he had been traded.
“I understand what’s going on,” Shumpert said of the Knicks' rebuilding. “Just got to trust the organization that they’re trying to build the right thing over there.”
“I think I was able to accomplish a lot here, started my career here,” added Shumpert, who had four points, seven assists and five rebounds. “I feel I was able to bounce back from some stuff, grow up a lot. So I’m happy with what went on in New York.”
Smith and Shumpert couldn’t be more thrilled to be playing alongside James. While the two didn’t want to leave New York, they now are playing for a title contender while the Knicks are Melo-less and lottery-bound.
“Our mindset has changed as opposed to trying to get a win to expecting to win every game we play,” Smith said. “Just our whole total approach is different. Both of us feel rejuvenated.”
After the game, Smith and Shumpert chose to talk to reporters together at the same time.
“I feel as though we started this together, so end it together,” Smith said. “Regardless of whatever the situation is, in my eyes, we are joined at the hip. This is my Siamese twin.”
“Honestly [the alley-oop] felt like the first time I actually met Shump,” Smith later added. “One of the first games [together] we threw a double alley-oop and to end it like we did [today]. It was something special. You couldn't have written it any better.
"The way we ended it, I think it was one for the books.”