Although the excitement attached to shooting guard matchups has been attenuated over the years and the intrigue isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, the importance of production from that position in the Finals still exists.
Iman Shumpert hasn’t been the same since he tore his ACL back in the first-round of the 2011-12 playoffs. Coincidentally enough, this occurred in a series against LeBron James and the Heat.
To that point, Shumpert was looked upon as having an amazing upside, one that saw him developing into an exceptional two-way player, who could wreak some havoc in his league. Unfortunately for the Knicks, that never seemed to come to fruition. He lost some of his explosiveness, which can be the result of reduced confidence attacking the lane.
But we’ve certainly seen a rejuvenated Iman Shumpert since he’s come to Cleveland to play with LeBron James. And although there’s not too much of a disparity when looking at this production in New York compared to what he’s doing with the Cavs, optically he looks much more comfortable and like a completely different player.
Once apart of the “Knicks Tape” in New York, Shumpert has found a new home in “The Land” and has played well to the tune of 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 14 games during the postseason. These solid numbers combined with the confidence he exudes is the reason why he’s getting significant playing time under coach Blatt. Despite the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have played exceptionally well and much of this can be attributed to the supporting cast, including Iman.
Shumpert has been called on to guard the best offensive wing threats on opposing teams and has relished these duties. The pride he takes in his defense is eerily similar to what James had during his Miami run with Shane Battier.
During the regular season, Shumpert was ninth among shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus. So far in the playoffs, he has a defensive rating of 103 and averages a steal and nearly one block per game. He might get some action chasing Steph Curry around the court during this series and will look to slow him down.
On the other side, Klay Thompson is looking to rebound from his tough shooting series against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. He’ll also be looking to recover from a concussion he suffered during Game 5 when Trevor Ariza kneed him in the side of his head.
Steve Kerr said that expects his Splash Brothers to be in full throttle when Game 1 of the Finals rolls in on Thursday night, as Thompson is showing signs of recovery. They’ll need him to shake those shooting woes demons in this series because that dual threat is what made them so tough to beat all year. In order to beat LeBron James four times in two weeks, you need to be clicking on all cylinders.
Thompson had a career-season averaging 21.7 points on 46 percent shooting and 43 percent from beyond the arc. He was also reliable from the free-throw line, shooting nearly 88 percent. We witnessed first-hand just how explosive he was when he scored 37 points in ONE quarter this past season against the Sacramento Kings without missing a single shot. He put on a shooting clinic, hitting 13 shots, including nine threes. He ended the game with 52 points and it’s a performance that will forever be in the history books.
But Klay struggled against the Rockets, only shooting 41 percent from the field and 37 from downtown. And his free-throw percentage did duck down to 83 percent. He still managed to score 17.8 points per game, but judging by his standards, he underachieved.
Toward the ending of the series in games 4 and 5, it seemed like Thompson was getting his stroke back and that the confidence that had dissipated to some degree was mounting again. In Game 4’s loss, he scored a team-high 24 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Most of this scoring outburst came when the Warriors saw their MVP head to the locker room after what appeared to be a possible concussion.
Then in Game 5, Thompson excited the crowd with 20 points in three quarters of action. He was regulated to the bench due to foul trouble initially. Upon his return to the floor, the Ariza knee to his head forced him out essentially for the rest of the game.
Klay Thompson and Steph Curry might be the best shooting backcourt of all-time, and that’s going to have to be on full display in this series. They often serve as decoys to one another because of their outstanding abilities as it pertain to shooting with confidence and ease. Curry and Thompson rank first and fourth in the playoffs in catch-and-shooting points per game respectively. Thompson is shooting 47.6 from the floor in these instances and 44.2 from three-point range. We might see him try to get to the rim to get himself going early.
If this Shumpert-Thompson matchup ever materializes, it’ll be invigorating for both teams. Both coaches rave about their guys’ toughness and how significant they were to the success of their teams. Thompson may be the superior scorer, but Shumpert will provide his best effort defensively and will force Klay to play some defense as well.
Back on January 9th in Golden State, Klay Thompson scored 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including four triples, to help his Warriors fend off the LeBron James-less Cavaliers in a 112-94 Dubs win. Of course he’ll be looking to duplicate this same success in this series. Iman Shumpert was sidelined in this game due to a dislocated shoulder that had plagued him for much of the beginning of the season.
Cleveland was able to get their revenge on February 26 back at home, thanks in large part to the King asserting himself to the tune of 42 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. In this game, Shumpert was essentially nonexistent, as he went scoreless in 31 minutes and Thompson struggled shooting just 5-of-13.
It’s not happenstance that Shumpert has looked much better in Cleveland; that’s what happens when you play alongside LeBron James. Coach Blatt said that he’s been dealing with a groin issues throughout the playoffs, but so far it hasn’t seemed to limit him.
Thompson will be looking to overcome a concussion and some shooting struggles. He actually has a chance to also break Reggie Miller’s three-point record in this series. Thompson is 13 three-pointers shy of tying Miller.
Brace yourself for another intense matchup, this time at the shooting guard position.