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Dahntay Jones kept Iman Shumpert sharp for second chance in Cavaliers' playoff rotation

By Joe Vardon • May 10, 2017 at 6:30 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- If Dahntay Jones never throws another retaliatory elbow, if LeBron James never has to cover another of his fines, if he doesn't give the Cavs five good minutes in a Finals game ... he's already left his mark on the 2017 playoffs.

He made sure Iman Shumpert stayed ready, in case coach Tyronn Lue called his number.

Lue did and Shumpert responded.

"Dahntay, since coming to the team, he's always up to play one on one with me," Shumpert told cleveland.com. "The type of player I am and the type of rhythm I need, I need to play. Playing one on one, three on three, four on four, five on five at times when we get other guys to play -- it all helps me for all I need to do."

Shumpert is again an integral part of Lue's playoff rotation, taking key assignments off the bench for a Cavs team that is 8-0 in the postseason after consecutive sweeps. But Shumpert only played in seven of those games.

When the playoffs began in mid-April, Lue chose Richard Jefferson over Shumpert as the ninth, and final, man of his rotation. It meant that for the first time in his six-year career, Shumpert, 26, would suit up but not play in a game.

The move shocked him, and we'll get to why a little later. Here's where Jones comes into play.

For the second straight year, Jones, 36, was signed by Cleveland on the final day of the regular season to fill a spot at the end of the bench in the playoffs. He's played parts of 13 NBA seasons, and because of his experience with the Cavs during their run to the title last season commands instant respect and has numerous solid relationships in the locker room.

So when Shumpert didn't play at all in Game 1 of that first-round series against Indiana, Jones and fellow veteran James Jones played Shumpert in games of one-on-one and recruited others (players and assistant coaches) for more competition.

"Those games were for Shump, Shump and RJ," Dahntay Jones told cleveland.com. "Shump needed to stay sharp. That's tough for anybody, especially the first time (when a player is left out of the rotation), but he took it in stride."

Shumpert played in 76 games during the regular season, including 31 starts. He served as Cleveland's back-up point guard for months, even though by trade he is more of a wing. He shot a career-best .411 from the field after shooting a career-worst .376 the year before.

Shumpert's production slipped as March wore on, but overall he was a dependable player for Lue while J.R. Smith was hurt and before the Cavs signed Deron Williams to play behind Kyrie Irving. And of course Shumpert was a rotation player in each of the team's Finals runs.

So Shumpert wasn't expecting it when Lue went with Jefferson.

"I mean initially, just like any competitor I felt the frustration and the feeling of what-do-I have-to-prove-now type of thing," Shumpert said. "After that, it's the playoffs, everything else kind of goes out the window. How do we win the next game, how do we advance? How do we get the next thing done?"

Lue said last weekend that it his "intention was to play 10 guys and just kind of see how it looked and who would be the guy in the rotation.

"RJ came in on day one and he played well those first five minutes of the first quarter when I subbed him in for Kevin (Love)," Lue explained, going back to the opening game against the Pacers. "After that J.R. got hurt and so we sent in Shump and Shump did great so we just kind of went with him."

Lue's rotation changed in Game 2 of the Pacers series when Smith suffered a minor hamstring injury. Shumpert, having not played at all in the first six quarters, started the second half of Game 2 and assumed Smith's assignment of guarding Paul George, holding him to 4-of-11 shooting.

"I had no clue -- I thought I wasn't playing that game," Shumpert said.

From that point, Lue went to Shumpert to spell Smith and help him with George and then DeMar DeRozan of Toronto, the Raptors' leading scorer. DeRozan was frustrated for three of the four games in round two, including a 5-point game in Game 2.

"For Shump, (it's about) just taking the defensive challenge of guarding the best player on the floor every single night and just keeping the game simple," Lue said. "Shooting the shots when you're open, straight line drives, just keeping the game simple and keeping it easy. To keep himself in shape he's been playing three-on-three with the guys, four-on-four, five-on-five full court. He's been continuing to work on his game, staying in shape, and he's been ready. He's been very valuable in these playoffs."

Shumpert is averaging 4.4 points in 19 minutes in the playoffs. But, like Smith, scoring has not been his primary responsibility. Between the two of them, however, Shumpert has the higher-scoring single game this postseason, piling up 14 in Cleveland's Game 3 win over Toronto.

The first shot he took of the playoffs, in the third quarter of Game 2 against the Pacers, was a 3-ball.

"I was the only guy that didn't play," Shumpert said. "You could tell. You could tell from my energy that I was the only guy that hadn't used any yet.

"T Lue got the hard job, man, trying to figure out who plays. I'm trying to make it hard on him."

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