Jeremy Lin holds his own against Heat, but fails in the big finish

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Jeremy Lin. (NBA.com)
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As indelible a part of the story of Linsanity as Jeremy Lin's rise from the end of the bench, his vanquishing of Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and his eventual injury and exile, was the first moment Lin struggled as a member of the New York Knicks.

It came against LeBron James and the Miami Heat, a nationally televised game in which Lin went 1-for-11 from the field, handed out just three assists, and was so overwhelmed that Barack Obama used the game as a metaphor to describe his campaign's plan to defeat Mitt Romney.

Monday night in Houston, Lin received his first opportunity to prove that his game could weather the pressure associated with playing against the N.B.A.'s defending champions. And for most of the game, he managed to find redemption. The part people remember will almost certainly be the dramatic failure at the very end, though.

Lin and the Rockets fell to the Heat, 113-110. And what we learned, in addition to some things about what Lin can and cannot do with this current Rockets team, is that LeBron James is the best player in the league. (But then, we already knew that, didn't we?)

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Lin and the Rockets looked to be overwhelmed early. The Heat raced out to a 20-5 lead, while Lin's first quarter was utterly inconsequential: two missed shots, no assists, a foul and a turnover. But Lin's teammates, primarily James Harden, helped get the Rockets back in the game, with ten Harden points reducing the Miami lead to 25-19 after a quarter.

And Lin found his footing in the second quarter, making both of his shot attempts, dishing out three assists, and blanketing Ray Allen defensively. More strong play followed in the third, including this remarkable assist he managed to slip past James in transition. But 16 points from James in the third quarter single-handedly kept the Heat in the game.

Lin, Harden and James all rested for the start of the fourth quarter, when Lin's backup Toney Douglas (remember him?) actually provided the Rockets with some quality minutes, allowing them to extend their lead to 94-86 when James re-entered the game with 9:07 left. By the time Lin and Harden returned, the Rockets still led, 101-93.

But then, the Rockets saw the ball movement that had propelled them to the brink of victory desert them. Lin has been an extremely effective creator of offense when he gets the chance, managing a strong 31.2 percent assist percentage despite the fact that his team's main scorer, Harden, usually creates himself.

Harden seemed determined to do it all alone down the stretch, missing four shots, all contested, while Miami drew close. The final minute saw Harden dribble, dribble, dribble before taking a shot contested by James, which missed. James, at the other end, drove to the basket and scored. That gave the Rockets the ball, trailing, 111-110, with 18 seconds left.

Harden, seeming to realize that getting blanketed by LeBron James meant he should look at other options, dished to Chandler Parsons, who was double-teamed, leaving Lin wide open for a three-pointer. It was the kind of shot that Lin just didn't miss during Linsanity. This time, he airballed the wide-open three, which fell into the hands of Dwyane Wade.

"Obviously, it's my responsibility to hit that shot," Lin said after the game. "It was a good shot for me, a quality shot, and it didn't go in for me, unfortunately, in a crucial play of the game."

So the story of Monday night won't be Lin's perfectly solid line against the Heat: nine points, six assists, three blocks (including a key block of James during the final five minutes of the fourth quarter), and just two turnovers in 34 minutes. It will be James' 32 second-half points, and Jeremy Lin's airball.

The data still supports the idea that Lin is an effective N.B.A. point guard, with a Player Efficiency Rating of 15.9 so far this season, above average, and improving defense.

But the Lin critics have their moment.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

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The Orlando Magic are reeling, while the Knicks are 4-0. So is Tuesday night's game a trap?

NETS

The Nets will host the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday without Gerald Wallace.

YANKEES

The game of chicken between Rafael Soriano and the Yankees is a fascinating one. Will the Yankees pay up for a setup man? Does Soriano have a long-term option beyond the Yankees?

SOCCER

The new soccer stadium in Queens is reportedly on Mayor Bloomberg's list of fast-tracked projects.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

St. John's will open their schedule against University of Detroit with a diminished roster, thanks to eligibility questions.

Seton Hall won its home opener over Norfolk State.

Rutgers crushed Sacred Heart, 88-62.