Bulls

Shumpert hitting his stride in unexpected role for Cavs

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Shumpert hitting his stride in unexpected role for Cavs

When the Cavaliers traded for guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert on Jan. 5, the former was considered the headliner in the deal. Smith, two years removed from winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, was expected to thrive in Cleveland's up-tempo, 3-point heavy offense with the help of an elite distributor in James and a less stressful role behind Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

At the time of the trade, Shumpert was still recovering from a dislocated shoulder and wouldn't play until late January. By that time Smith had cemented himself as the starting shooting guard, leaving Shumpert to play the role of defensive specialist on the second unit.

But when Smith was suspended for the first two games of the Cavaliers' semifinals matchup against the Bulls and Kevin Love was ruled out of the series with a separated shoulder, the Cavaliers called upon Shumpert to expand his game on both ends of the floor. And as a hobbled Kyrie Irving limped to the finish line, it was suddenly Shumpert who took on the role of being both Cleveland's second scoring option and defensive stopper in the starting lineup.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In a nutshell, Shumpert was magnificent. And his inspiring performance in the series culminated Thursday night in Game 6, when his second quarter run sparked the Cavaliers in what would become a 94-73 series-clinching victory.

With the Bulls hanging around midway through the second quarter, Shumpert drove from the left wing and was met with a clothesline by Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls rookie, who had also tussled briefly with LeBron James in Game 5, walked toward a fallen Shumpert and appeared to stare him down. The Cavaliers kept their composure, with tensions never escalating toward the level they had when Matthew Dellavedova and Taj Gibson scuffled 48 hours earlier.

Shumpert split two free throws after Mirotic was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul, then followed his freebie with a driving layup and 3-pointer over Mirotic in successive possessions that pushed the lead out to seven. That personal 6-0 run from Shumpert began a decisive 17-4 Cavaliers run that pushed their lead to 14 by halftime, and the Bulls never got within single digits the rest of the night.

"Everybody needs to be inspired by something," Shumpert said of Mirotic's hard foul. "And at that moment I took it as, instead of trying to win the fight, I wanted to win the game."

[MORE: Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavs in series-clincher]

It capped off an improbable series for Shumpert. Though part of the Cavs rotation all year, even a best-case scenario couldn't have pegged the swingman for his series averages: 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals in 36 minutes per game. He also turned the ball over once in 218 minutes. None of those numbers include the valiant effort he gave defending both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler at different points in the series, with the Cavaliers attempting to hide Irving's injury defensively while finding a way to keep him in for his offensive threat.

With Irving still hobbled by aggravated foot and knee injuries, Shumpert's tests will continue in the next round. Unless Irving can recuperate quickly, Shumpert likely will find himself guarding Atlanta's Jeff Teague or Washington's Bradley Beal the majority of the Eastern Conference Finals. He'll do so while still being expected to contribute on the offensive end in Love's absence, with more tangible numbers needed to advance to the NBA Finals.

[ALSO: LeBron lauds Dellavedova's, Thompson's effort in blowout win]

"My role was always big, just sometimes it didn’t show up in the stat sheet. With JR being suspended I got more looks at the basket and it showed up on the stat sheet, so people put more eyes on it," he said. "But these guys have always asked me to contribute different ways. It might not always show up on the stat sheet, but I’m there."

When Shumpert was dealt by New York, the Knicks were struggling to a league-worst 5-32 record. In a matter of one trade Shumpert suddenly found himself on a Cleveland team under the national microscope each time they took the floor. But with the spotlight on him as the fill-in for Smith and the defensive substitution for Irving, Shumpert played his best basketball.

When Smith was subbed out in the closing minutes of the Game 6 victory, he found Shumpert on the sidelines.

"I told him, 'Man, we came a long way.' From being where we were at with the guys we were with," he reflected, "to be switched over like this and the position we’re in now, it’s an unbelievable opportunity. We’ve got to make the most of it."

Patrick Beverley tells Wojnarowski: 'Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense'

Patrick Beverley tells Wojnarowski: 'Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense'

Patrick Beverley's path to the NBA was an intriguing one, a true story of perseverance featuring many twists and turns. For those who haven't closely followed Beverley's career, the Chicago native and current Los Angeles Clipper had a three-year career overseas before he really caught on in the NBA, landing a multi-year deal with the Houston Rockets in 2013. Before landing with the Rockets, Beverley played for Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine), Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece), Spartak St. Petersburg (Russia) before landing in Houston but a lesser-known fact is that Beverley actually spent time practicing with the Bulls within the first two years of his overseas basketball career. 

On Saturday's episode of "The Woj Pod" hosted by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Beverley discussed the importance of glue guys, Kris Dunn's season and much more. One of the more interesting tidbits was the aforementioned workouts with the Bulls. Beverley responded to a Woj question about if he could've played with the Bulls had things went differently earlier in his career:

I worked in the summertime with the Bulls, I don't know, two-three years in a row, Vinny Del Negro, he told me I didn't play defense...

Beverley elicited laughter from the crowd but he is clearly (and some would say rightfully) still upset by those who didn't give him an opportunity along the way. He went on to say that there is a "dynamic that fans don't know" and "can only assume." In the interview, Beverley didn't give a specific year but he says "two-three years" and clearly states that Vinny Del Negro was the head coach, meaning that he likely scrimmaged with the Bulls at points during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

When you take a closer look at those rosters, the possible matchups Beverley had become incredibly interesting to think about. The 2009 Bulls had nine players scoring in double figures — and a 10th scoring 9.9 points per game in Kirk Hinrich — and the 2010 Bulls had six players scoring in double figures.

Beverley could've had matchups against Larry Hughes (12,0 PPG in '09), John Salmons (career-high 18.3 PPG in '09), Ben Gordon (20.7 PPG in '09), or even Derrick Rose (18.7 PPG from 2008-10). Out of that group, Gordon and Rose specifically, can make any defender look bad on their best day, so maybe Del Negro's mistake wasn't as egregious as it appears now. Either way, Beverley certainly hasn't forgotten the ordeal. 

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Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Derrick Jones Jr. takes down Aaron Gordon in an all-time great NBA Dunk Contest

Ask anyone from Chicago around All-Star weekend, and you'll quickly learn the city breeds tough, gritty and relentless basketball.

Apparently, it also breeds controversial dunk contests.

Thirty-two years after Michael Jordan bested Dominique Wilkins in a contest at the Old Chicago Stadium that many agree saw a healthy heaping of home-cooking on the menu, Derrick Jones Jr. topped Aaron Gordon in an affair that sent shockwaves through the NBA universe. Here's the rundown:

Highlights from regulation

There was a special feeling about this one from the very beginning.

Perhaps white men can jump:

 

 

Dwight busted out the cape (again) — and tributed Kobe along the way:

 

Aaron Gordon at one point rattled off five 50s in a row:

 

The finish

In the end, it all came down to Gordon and Jones, who duked out a dunk-off that featured some absolute haymakers:

 

It was raucous fun, truly. But the controversy came at the finish. Jones' final dunk was an attempted reprisal of Julius Erving's famous free-throw line dunk (re-popularized by Jordan, partly in that aforementioned '88 contest), which registered a 48. Gordon then pulled out the 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall for an improvised leapfrog that nearly tore the roof down.

 

"It was a great decision for him to do that. Everybody knows Tacko's a fan favorite," Jones said. "I knew it was going to get the crowd hyped."

"He (Fall) was a little bit nervous. He was like 'I got faith in you.' I was like, 'I appreciate it,'" Gordon said.

That dunk, though, garnered only a 47 from the judges. Game, set, match: Jones. Boos cascaded from the rafters.

The reaction

That sentiment carried over into the postgame presser.

"What are we doing here?" Gordon bemoaned to assorted media before even taking his seat at the podium. "Jumping over somebody 7-foot-5 and dunking is no easy feat. What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?"

All fair questions. All fair points.

"I don't even know who gave me the 9s. I'm going to find them," he added with a laugh. "Trust me, I'm going to find them tonight.

Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen and Chadwick Boseman... Look out.

Gordon did give Jones his due, calling him a "leaper" and "great dunker." Still, this appears to be the final contest of Gordon's career.

"It's a wrap, bro. It's a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies," Gordon said, alluding to his defeat at the hands of Zach LaVine in 2016. "My next goal is going to be trying to win the 3-point contest."

Jones, meanwhile, contested the premise that Gordon was robbed at all.

"When I got that 48, it was tough because that was a dunk that I was doing since high school and I know that's 50-worthy. There's no way I should have got a 48," Jones said. "He clipped Tacko's head when he did that dunk, so I knew they couldn't have gave him a 50 for that one. I would have respected it if they gave him another 48, so we can go again."

In that event, Jones said he would have been ready.

"I just turned 23, I got legs for days," Jones said. Jones' birthday was the night of the contest, and he said he had dunks planned for as long as the judges allowed them to.

And though Jones hasn't yet thought about where this dunk contest ranks in the history of ones before, he's ready for the next challenge.

"Whoever want to step out there. I don't know. I'm not naming no names. I don't want to call nobody out, but whoever want to step out in front of me, I'm there. I'm not going to shy away from nobody."

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