Besides James Harden, no player on the Houston Rockets has played in the NBA Finals. No player on the Rockets has defended Kevin Durant one-on-one on basketball’s biggest stage.
Unless, of course, your name is Iman Shumpert.
The 28-year-old wing is not the answer to dethroning the Warriors, but he brings a brand of valuable experience that no other Houston player has. He brings a type of physicality that is beyond necessary to contest the shooters on one of the game’s best teams ever.
Don’t believe in Shump?
Ask Warriors coach Steve Kerr...
Or ask head coach Mike D’Antoni…"He's tough and he's been there," D'Antoni said to reporters. "He's been through the Finals and knows what it takes."Shumpert tussled with former teammate Anderson Varejao in the 2016 Finals. He got into a verbal dispute with Stephen Curry in the 2017 Finals. One of Draymond Green’s many technical fouls came when he elbowed Shumpert in the face in Game 4 of that series, the same night in which Shumpert took a punch from Zaza Pachulia.And all of this physical toughness goes without mentioning Shumpert’s 51 playoff wins, 29 playoff starts, two playoff double-doubles, his critical four-point play in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals and his tenacity in defending Durant and Klay Thompson.By no means is Shumpert an efficient shooter in the postseason (38.4% career playoff shooting percentage), but he has proven to frustrate Golden State while posting a respectable playoff mark from three-point range (37.1%)."Whether he makes his shots or not, I was kind of overlooking some of the other things he was giving us, just toughness and his ability to be able to turn up the burners," D'Antoni said.After playing 17 minutes and sitting out three games against the Jazz in the first round, Shumpert has emerged and tallied 18 points, eight rebounds and eight fouls while also setting hard screens over 65 minutes against the Warriors in the conference semifinals. Over the series’ first four games, he has +/- ratings of +3, +5, +6 and +1.
Shumpert contests Durant, bruises with Draymond and doesn’t shy away from Curry. None of those are quantifiable, but they have all played a role in developing Shumpert into a champion and a consistent presence in the postseason.
When the Warriors were up 3-1, the Cavaliers responded with grit and perseverance.
After trailing the Warriors 2-0, the Rockets have responded with fearlessness and evened the series.
James Harden painted a telling picture after Game 4, using a quote that exemplifies the play of Shumpert, an X-factor to D’Antoni’s blueprint for pulling off a historic upset.
“When you’re dealing with these guys, if you let Klay and Steph (Curry) run around and shoot 3s you don’t have no chance,” Harden said. “The only chance we have is to be in to their bodies and make every shot that they take contested.”