INDIANAPOLIS — Just before the All-Star Game break, Iman Shumpert was finishing strenuous drills at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice facility, designed to test his injured ankle.
As reporters talked to coach Tyronn Lue, Shumpert went through defensive close-outs with an assistant coach standing behind the corner 3-point line, shooting jumpers.
Reporters were only a few feet away from the sweating Shumpert. They could graphically see how much ground Shumpert could cover in a stride or two, his explosiveness off the ground even with the sore ankle, his length and his overall athletic ability.
All this was from a guy known as a good defender, but not considered a major star. Presumably, it was an ordinary workout on an ordinary practice day, but it drove the point home once again:
A different atlas
Almost everybody in the United States played basketball at some level or other at some time. But NBA players simply aren’t like the rest of us. Their game isn’t just off the charts of athletic potential compared to regular guys, it’s in a whole different atlas of human possibility.
Perspective is needed for complaints about NBA defense, even before the Cavs’ NBA record comeback from a 25-point deficit at halftime to take a 3-0 lead in their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
“It’s hard to win any game in the NBA, much less a playoff game,” LeBron James, the Cavs’ leader, who led from the front in the comeback, has said many times.
The defense didn’t rest then
After the Indiana Pacers shot 25 for 44, 56.8 percent in the first half in taking the big lead, the Cavs held them to 13 for 51, 25.5 percent in the second Thursday night.
Ferociously defended by Shumpert and J.R. Smith, Indiana’s best player, Paul George, was only four for 15 in the second half.
The objection is that this only shows what the team can do when fully committed. While true, the players still are human beings.
Mighty San Antonio, second seeded in the NBA West, with the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich, took a pasting at Memphis. Boston, the top seed in the East, lost twice at home to Chicago, the lowest seed. The third Eastern seed, Toronto, trails sixth-seeded Milwaukee, 2-1.
Why not Shump?
After Shumpert was stapled to Tyronn Lue’s bench throughout the opening game, in both the second and third games, his defense made a major difference.
When George scored 29 points in Game 1, benching Shumpert became a hard decision to defend. Shumpert has the size at 6-5 and strength at 220 pounds to bother George.
Shumpert has the quickest hands outside a convention of pickpockets. During the regular season, he was third on the team in steals with 62. James had 92 in 857 more minutes than Shumpert. Kyrie Irving had 83 in 588 more minutes.
How hard is his job? “Injuries come from the way I play,” he said. “I get run into picks down low. I’m slapping at the ball.”
He is a quick healer. So is good defense for what ails the Cavs.
Points scored, points prevented
A misguided case can be made that the Cavs won because of their 12 for 21 barrage of threes in the second half, including four of eight by James, who still can’t make his free throws, and two each by Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Smith and Deron Williams.
“The best way to get offense is to defensively create missed shots,” said James.
Iman Shumpert didn’t take a shot or score a point Thursday in 14 minutes. He has only five points in 34 minutes in the series.
Only the foolish think he hasn’t mattered.