10:00 am Feb. 16, 20121
A particular pleasure of Jeremy Lin's unfathomable rise has been the equally implausible effect it has had on his surroundings.
Here is how crazy people have gotten: On a day when President Obama acknowledged keeping tabs on the Lin story, and Amar'e Stoudemire returned to Madison Square Garden after missing a week due to the death of his brother, and the Knicks were about to win the seventh straight game and get back to .500—the Madison Square Garden crowd was demanding more.
“We want Lin! We want Lin!” they chanted, again and again, sincerely. Each time one section started, the chant picked up steam quickly. The normal calculus—with the home team well ahead, fans usually call for the last man on the bench, preferring the stars to rest—disappeared. Jeremy Lin (who, just weeks ago, was the last man on the Knicks' bench) is both star and cult hero to Knicks fans.
Before he sat down, he helped pick apart a Sacramento Kings team that had been playing decently lately. Lin scored 10 points and collected 13 assists in just 26 minutes as New York won, 100-85, in a game that wasn't nearly that close.
Instead of taking command of the game with his shooting, Lin shot just six times, fewer attempts than even forward Jared Jeffries had. In lieu of the kind of shooting that brought down Toronto on Tuesday night (and caught the attention of Barack Obama), Lin played the kind of pure distributive game that will be so valuable to the Knicks once Stoudemire is back in form and Carmelo Anthony has returned to the court.
“That's where he's made his most progress,” Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said in a press conference following the game. “If it makes sense for him to score, he'll score. If they double him, the ball will go someplace else. Really happy with 10 points, 13 assists—that's great. The next night, he might have to get 30 for us to win. Whatever we need from him, he gives us.”
All but one of his questions were about Lin—and the reporter actually apologized for asking about another player, Landry Fields.
“Don't worry, we'll get back to him soon,” D'Antoni reassured the press, to laughter.
Lin certainly allowed Fields to flourish on Wednesday night, with the starting shooting guard tallying 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. In the seven games Lin has played significant minutes, Fields is shooting 50 percent from the field, and in the last three games, Fields has added 16 assists and a massive-for-a-guard 21 rebounds.
Lin and Fields, in particular, have bonded in a way the fans can see and appreciate. A low murmur in the Garden crowd last night rose quickly to a roar as Lin and Fields took off following a rebound by Bill Walker. Usually a crowd gets excited about a play after it happens. But just as Lin knew Fields was streaking toward the basket, the fans knew what was about to happen, as Lin found Fields from near the three-point line for a resounding dunk.
Not coincidentally, Lin has ample experience playing with Fields. A Palo Alto native, he spent summers practicing informally with the Stanford team, where Fields went to school.
“They always needed extra guys to play, and he was the guy I would contact,” Lin said from a podium in the expanded press conference room.
The established crush of reporters around a locker, good enough for Anthony or Stoudemire, simply doesn't allow for the full Jeremy Lin media experience.
“The first night I signed with the team, me and him went to dinner," Lin said. "We just kind of built on that relationship, and obviously now we're very close.”
Lin has formed an excellent on-court relationship with center Tyson Chandler, too. Last night, he repeatedly gave up contested layups to find Chandler for easy dunks instead. The effect on Chandler's game has been massive: He's shooting nearly 70 percent from the field, and that's with many more attempts since Lin joined the lineup on Feb. 5. His shots-per-game by month: 3.5 in December, 4.9 in January, and, this month, 8.0.
Lin has become so important, in fact, that the Knicks no longer have the luxury of giving the crowd what they want. They rested him late in last night's game so he'll be fresh for Friday night's game against New Orleans, and to give him the best chance of holding up over the whole season (and, the way things are currently going, the post-season, too).
D'Antoni plans to continue trying to get Lin rest when he can.
“Just try to pick my spots,” D'Antoni said. “Never have an idea ahead of time—oh, he'll play 35 minutes. Watch the game, watch him, see how he feels, if he's got a nagging injury or anything, we'll adjust. But like I said, he should be fine.”
Without Lin in the lineup, the Knicks scored just 26 points over the final 15 minutes, but the Garden crowd, a sea of shiny new Jeremy Lin jerseys interspered with suddenly aged-looking Anthony and Stoudemire jerseys, was distracted and bored. They took to booing an unfortunate guard on Sacramento with the Voldemort-like name of Isaiah Thomas.
The fans who stuck around till the end were rewarded with a post-game on-court interview with Lin, who repeated his now-familiar task of thanking his teammates and coaches. He was barely audible above the chants of “MVP!”