Mike Woodson has been less than pleased with the defensive efforts of the New York Knicks in the past several weeks. The Knicks coach was hopeful that the return of Iman Shumpert from ACL surgery was going to be the defensive spark needed to get the defense back on track.
Shumpert's return has not done anything to improve the defense, especially against the opposition's backcourt, and Woodson voiced his displeasure after Wednesday night's win against the Orlando Magic. JJ Reddick and Jameer Nelson combined to score 26 points in the first quarter of that game.
"I expect everybody to defend," Woodson said. "I'm not getting that out of 'Rook' [Shumpert]. It starts out front with the guards. It starts with Raymond, 'Rook' and our three in terms of our perimeter. And we just got to get better. We're playing on our heels."
After the Bucks scored 53 points in the first half of last night's game against the Knicks, it's clear that the guards did not get the message from the game against the Magic. Woodson decided that he had seen enough of Shumpert when the second half began.
After a first half that saw Shumpert play just 6 minutes and look hesistant on both ends of the court, he allowed Brandon Jennings to cut on easy back door layup just 11 seconds into the half. Woodson pulled him out of the game 50 seconds later following his mental gaffe.
“I turned, I saw JR Smith and he pointed at me,” Shumpert said. “I knew what it was.”
Woodson's public benching of Shumpert clearly sent a message to the rest of the team as the Knicks became a different team from that point. Shumpert was the one that got the message the loudest as he came back to a play a strong fourth quarter and spark the Knicks to an impressive 96-86 victory over the Bucks.
“When I pulled him it didn’t seem like he had much energy, so I thought he needed to sit and think about it a little bit,” Woodson said. “When I brought him back in the fourth quarter, he was big. He stepped up and he made plays, which is kind of nice to see.’’
Shumpert got the call to come back into the game after Raymond Felton looked to have reinjured his pinky with about 40 seconds left in 3rd quarter. Shumpert was a different player in the 4th quarter as he scored all seven of his points, and was much more aggresive ater a passive first half. He also played his best defense of the year as he completely shut down Jennings and even caused the dynamic point guard a few turnovers. If Shumpert didn't get the message after the last game, he certainly got loud and clear last night.
"At times, stuff happens,’’ Shumpert said. “I got beat on two backdoors, body not in the right position. Just a small detail of not closing my foot on an out-of-bounds play, and the guy goes right backdoor. Little stuff like that I wasn’t paying attention to because I haven’t been in the swing of things. I know I’m going to get yelled at for it. My teammates curse me out on the court, too.’’
After some impressive drives to the basket that led to his first four points, Shumpert put the nail in the coffin after knocking down a corner 3 pointer with 3:09 left to give the Knicks a 92-81 lead. The win pushes the Knicks winning streak to three and are now .5 game behind the Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. But what maybe be most important from last night is that Shumpert looked like the defensive stopper he was in his rookie year. Shumpert is trying to get his timing back after ACL surgery and it is something he may not get back until next season. He admitted after the game that the surgery was much tougher than he imagined.
“He knows it’s awkward for me to be in the corner. We’ve got a new thing we’re doing this year, and I’ve got to make the adjustment. He knows me sitting out nine months I’m off-rhythm. He just wants to keep pushing me to be aggressive. This was his way of teaching me if I’m not aggressive he’s going to take me out.’’