NEW YORK -- There were plenty of heroes for the Knicks on Wednesday night.
You had J.R. Smith, who poured in a team-high 24 points and handed out six assists. And there was Carmelo Anthony, who put up his 22nd double-double of the year. And Tim Hardaway Jr., who poured in 17 points on a gimpy ankle.
The usual cast of characters.
But another, unlikely name emerged against Brooklyn: Iman Shumpert.
“I thought Iman set the tone for us tonight,” Mike Woodson said.
Shumpert had handful of steals in the first half that to transition layups and dunks that helped propel the Knicks to a pivotal win over Brooklyn.
“When he plays like that, he’s tough,” Tyson Chandler said. “... He’s just so solid. He wasn’t reaching, he wasn’t gambling. He was just forcing the offensive player into tough positions.”
Shumpert has been one of the Knicks' biggest enigmas this season. Entering the year, most expected him to take the proverbial “next step” -- to progress into a consistent scorer and top-flight defender in his third year in the league.
Instead, Shumpert has struggled to find consistency on offense.
Maybe some of it can be traced to the offseason.
He had knee surgery in the summer, came into camp at less than 100 percent health and was engulfed in trade rumors up until the Feb. 20 deadline. His play seemed to be impacted by trade talk.
Entering play Wednesday, Shumpert was averaging 6.5 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting this season. Since being replaced in the starting lineup by J.R. Smith, Shumpert averaged 5.3 points per game on 38 percent shooting.
Fans and members of the organization were baffled by the poor production.
But Shumpert’s full potential was on display in the first half against Brooklyn.
He had three steals that led directly to layups and dunks in transition. His active hands bothered the Nets' ball handlers, helping force Brooklyn into nine first-half turnovers. Shumpert finished the game with 10 points, five steals, two assists and three rebounds.
“He and Tyson are our best defenders,” Raymond Felton said. “He always accepts the challenge -- from anyone.”
On Wednesday it was Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The Knicks, though, could use this kind of effort from Shumpert the rest of the way as they try to maintain position in the playoff race in the East.
Wednesday’s win left the Knicks percentage points ahead of Atlanta in eighth place in the conference with six games to play.
Afterward, Anthony noted that the Knicks played with an energy that hasn’t always been present this season.
“Sometimes we’ve been real inconsistent; tonight was a total opposite,” Anthony said.
And it started with Iman Shumpert.
You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.