I must have been one of the few people in Manhattan not buying into the linsanity this week, but there's only so many times I can deny the obvious. Lin is legit and he has brought an excitement to the Garden that Knicks fans haven't seen in some time.
I wasn't convinced that Lin's exploits against the hapless New Jersey Nets or Washington Wizards meant anything at all, and I fully expected Kobe Bryant and the Lakers to handle Mike D'Antoni's Melo-less, Amar'e-less team with ease.
I was wrong. Horribly, inexcusably wrong.
No, Lin didn't dunk on Kobe. He didn't block Andrew Bynum or catch a falling baby in the front row next to Spike Lee. He did pretty much everything else, though. He played with energy early on and he played with coolness and swag in the clutch. He also had seven assists, four boards and a couple steals. He turned the ball over six times.
I thought Lin was going to be nervous playing in the playoff-charged atmosphere, but instead he embraced the challenge. He scored nine of the team's first 13 points and he got the fans at the Garden on their feet when he capped an early 10-0 Knicks run by driving to the hoop for an uncontested layup following a World Peace turnover at midcourt.
He was more impressive down the stretch when the game was on the line and the Lakers were threatening. That is all you need to know.
Lin wasn't perfect and at times his game looked scrappy and forced, but take the performance for what it was; a solid, team effort by an inexperienced second-string squad in a high-pressure environment against a playoff-bound opponent.
The fact is, Lin continues to make his team better. A true 1-guard, Lin was the focal point of a starting lineup that included fellow guard Landry Fields, forwards Jared Jeffries and Phil Walker and center Tyson Chandler.
Here's a look at the game that confirmed his growing legend.
Thirty-eight points. You read that right. It was also a Knicks season high.
Lin started hot, making four of his first five field goals. Derek Fisher guarded him to begin the game, opting to give him the perimeter and taking his chances that Lin wouldn't be able to make that 18-foot jumper.
He missed his opening shot from the top of the key, but connected on a baseline three-pointer, two jump shots from the right elbow and an uncontested layup after a steal and breakaway from midcourt to give the Knicks a 13-4 lead with seven minutes remaining in the first.
He had little success driving to the basket around the two seven-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and while he was often crowded out in the lane early on he got better as the first half progressed.
He broke the defense a little more effectively in the second quarter, completing a traditional three-point play after getting a little teardrop to fall over Andrew Goudelock and then earning a trip to the free-throw line after driving straight at Pau Gasol. In the third, he earned more trips to the line after initiating contact with Bynum in tight spaces under the hoop. He did the same with Jason Kapono in the third.
The highlight of the first half came in the last few minutes of the opening half. After knocking down a shot from the left elbow, Lin then made a SportsCenter play with 2:37 to play. He faked driving to his right, beat Fisher with a spin move back to his left and made it to the hoop before Matt Barnes had a chance to collapse on him inside.
In the fourth quarter he passed up on a three to step inside the arc and knock down a jumper form the left corner. Then he nailed a deep two in Gasol's face from the top of the arc. Then he drained another three-pointer to kill any kind of momentum Kobe had built for LA before scoring his 35 and 36th points of the evening on a spinning move to the left side of the hoop.
He showed a smooth touch around the basket and he displayed the ability to make every kind of shot.
Offense: Passing and Game Management
Lin did a lot of things right. He pushed the floor on the break when the Knicks were in transition and he controlled the tempo and slowed things down when a half-court set was called for.
He looked to utilize the pick and roll early, and he was able to find the open man several times after the Lakers' guards double-teamed him on the perimeter.
Jeffries got a couple open looks as Lin stretched the defense, and Chandler benefited from cheap looks under the basket when he rolled to the rim as the Lakers swarmed out.
Spike Lee told Lin to calm down after committing the Knicks' fifth turnover midway through the second quarter, but it was in the third period that he failed to protect the ball the most. He tried to be too cute on a couple passes and sometimes tried to force the issue off the dribble when the room just wasn't there.
His decision-making wasn't poor, and most of his mistakes seemed to come from trying too hard. They're mistakes he will make fewer of the more he plays in this offense. You can handle these types of errors as a coach, especially when you consider how new he is to the team.
The mental side of his game was decent overall, and much of the Knicks' success to get easy points in the paint came from Lin either drawing defenders to the perimeter or finding the open man on dribble-penetration.
On defense, Lin spent most of the evening guarding either Derek Fisher or Matt Barnes. Occasionally he provided weak-side help to double-team Kobe, but the majority of his time was spent just outside the paint an arm's length from the Lakers' point guards.
Likewise, most of the time Lin was exposed on the defensive side of the ball came when he tried to double-team players in the blocks. He constantly found himself too far off his own man, unable to recover when the guards, specifically Fisher, then backed off to create room.
When it came down to it, though, Lin came up big. He rotated well to steal the ball from a Kobe pass after he was trapped along the sideline at midcourt, and he was there to draw an offensive foul from Barnes in the final minute when the Lakers were looking to cut into a six-point lead.
The Lakers didn't help themselves, especially in the first half when they shot just 34 percent and turned the ball over nine times, but don't take anything away from this all-around Knicks team performance.
The 23-year-old became an instant celebrity in the hoops world this week. Believe the hype. Lin is for real.
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