BOSTON - With one critically timed steal and fast-break layup, Iman Shumpert did more than allow his Knicks teammates, coaches and fans to finally breathe a sigh of relief.
He also announced then that he's 100 percent healthy again and back to his old self.
Exactly one year and one day have passed since Shumpert had surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, and never had the second-year swingman looked like his old self as much as he did on that fourth-quarter play Friday night in Game 6. And it couldn't have come at a better moment for the Knicks.
Shumpert's steal from Paul Pierce and streak for a lay-in with 5:06 left stopped the Celtics' 20-0 run, extended the Knicks' lead back to eight and let everyone relax for a few moments -- at least until the Celtics scored the next four points to get within four.
But no play loomed larger in the Knicks' series-clinching 88-80 victory over the Celtics.
"I was just thinking that I was going to try and get that steal because I knew he was going to try and throw it," Shumpert said. "Luckily, I was able to deflect it and end that run, give us a little breathing room."
And it was important personally because Shumpert felt like his old self on that play.
Last year, Shumpert, then a rookie, hurt his knee in the third quarter of the Knicks' postseason opener. He said his teammates continually reminded him throughout the regular season not to rush back to his menacing ways on defense until the games mattered most.
"I just have great teammates who are always telling me, 'Look, as long as you're ready for the playoffs,' " Shumpert said. "I've just been trying to work, getting some extra shots off, getting to the gym early. It's just been paying off."
Shumpert has proven that much, especially Friday night. He scored 17 points, shot 6-for-9 and had six rebounds and two steals, impacting the game in many ways, just as he did so often as a rookie before surgery cut his postseason short.
Shumpert said his brother noticed on video that Jason Terry "disrepected me" with his jet celebration in Game 5.
"I kind of had it in the back of my head the whole game," Shumpert said.
So Shumpert made sure to do the same celebration to Terry after one of his three three-pointers in the third quarter, getting the last laugh.