1:18 pm Feb. 11, 20121
A week ago, before the revelatory performance against the Nets off the bench, before the amalgam of astonishing drives and gasp-inducing passes in his first start on Monday night, before his double-digit assist and highlight-dunk domination of John Wall Wednesday night in Washington, before the nicknames and the sold-out merchandise at Madison Square Garden and the write-up in The Nation, Jeremy Lin was a backup point guard known to Harvard boosters and a small number pro-basketball nerds and … that’s about it.
Yet the game he played on Friday night—he scored 38 points, had seven assists, and outdueled Kobe Bryant, the league's greatest active scorer—was probably his most astonishing performance yet. The 92-85 victory over the Lakers, in front of an ever-more-delirious crowd at Madison Square Garden, allowed Lin to address a number of perceived concerns about his game, and to rebut the conventional wisdom about what would happen to him once he became a known commodity to the Knicks’ opponents.
As an N.B.A. scout described the situation earlier this week, Lin would be derailed once his opposite numbers started following three directives: 1) get physical with Lin; 2) force Lin to drive to his left more; 3) back off him defensively to make him beat you with perimeter shots.
The Lakers tried the first tactic early on, repeatedly fouling Lin hard when he got to the basket, and even bumping him prior to an inbounds pass, something that sent Lin to the free-throw line limping a bit. If the idea was to make him more reticent about driving, it certainly didn't work. And Lin seemed to rise to the moment, notably pushing off some contact from Bryant when the taller and stronger Laker star moved to guard him.
The Lakers tried the second one, too, but the effort to force Lin to his left more seemed to do little to slow him down. Lin failed to finish with his left hand on a pair of athletic moves to the basket, but more noteworthy was the ease with which he used his left hand to create space for a layup. The finishes, presumably, will come, and Lin responded to the adjustment by embracing what the defense gave him, and not trying to force what had previously worked.
The third idea, that sagging back on Lin could work, was inspired by Lin's first three performances; this season, entering Friday night’s game, he'd shot 7-for-24 from outside of five feet. But here, again, Lin again took what the Lakers gave him, shooting 9-for-15 from beyond five feet. He opened the game with a three-pointer, and broke a Laker run in the fourth quarter with a three-pointer as well.
The outside-shooting performance wasn’t really a fluke, either, if you consider that Lin was a strong perimeter shooter during his time in the D-League, hitting nearly 36 percent of his three-pointers. Rajon Rondo, he isn't.
Lin's next challenge is to fly to Minnesota, play on back-to-back nights, defend the most exciting point guard to come along in years (Ricky Rubio, if you don’t count Lin) and continue to run the Knicks’ injury-depleted offense as opponents throw the kitchen sink at him.
After the week he just had, is anyone betting against him?