Report Card Grades for Jeremy Lin's Return to Madison Square Garden
In his first game against the New York Knicks earlier this season, Jeremy Lin scored 13 points in 35 minutes. That matchup was in Houston, though; the atmosphere far less significant and under a softer spotlight. Tonight, in his first trip back to Madison Square Garden since joining the Rockets, Lin scored his 13th point with 5:54 left in the second quarter.
He finished with 22 points on 15 shots and plus/minus of (+18) (a game high) as the Rockets gave the Knicks their first home loss of the season, 109-94.
Lin played fearless basketball, like someone who heard all the commentary about New York being better off without him and responding with a fury. He attacked the basket and dared New York's defenders to stop him, drawing two of Tyson Chandler's three first-half fouls on hard drives into the paint.
Apart from James Harden, who scored a brilliant 28 points on 18 shots, Lin was the most dominating force on the court. As polarizing a player as he is, there's no arguing Jeremy Lin can produce on a big stage.
Jeremy Lin's first shot was a three-pointer he appeared to have no intention on taking. It fell short. But that didn't deter him from taking a couple more in the next few minutes. The second went in and stood as his only made shot from outside the paint all night long.
Lin's shot wasn't pretty (he air balled a wide-open three-pointer), but his confidence didn't waver, and it didn't have a negative effect on any other parts of his game, including his defense.
Driving to the Rim
After the first half, Jeremy Lin had 16 points with 13 of them coming as the direct result of aggressive drives to the basket (he made three free-throws by drawing two fouls at the rim on Tyson Chandler).
Lin's second field goal came on a quick baseline drive to the basket that the Knicks failed to rotate on. He proceeded to spend his night going at the rim in transition, on pick-and-rolls and on fast breaks, like a motivated bull rushing straight towards a red cape.
With 5:45 left in the first half, Lin grabbed an offensive rebound, then drove into a pack of Knicks to hit a tough floater over Chandler. The basket made him the game's high scorer with 13 points and forced a Knicks time out. A few minutes later, Lin drove baseline and absorbed a flying elbow flagrant foul (also from Chandler.)
Lin was the game's most aggressive player, and nothing indicates this more than the way he consistently attacked the rim. The Knicks had no response but to foul him hard or let him go by.
Lin spent the first half looking for his own shot, but displayed some pretty good control in the pick-and-roll, finding Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons rolling to the basket. His first assist was a delayed drop off pass to Parsons in transition, and it signaled Lin was prepared to get more involved in the passing game than he normally has this season.
On his first two possessions of the second half, Lin drew the defense's attention on drives to the paint and found wide open teammates for three-pointers. Neither fell, but he had the right idea. Lin had eight assists, by the time he left the game in the third quarter.
Lin started the game with his eyes set on the basket, knowing he needed to get himself going as a scorer, but he appeared much more concerned with that than playing point guard and getting everyone else involved.
As far as running the pick-and-roll, several times Lin would come off the screen, meet a sagging roll-man defender in the paint and then hesitate just a split second too long on what he wanted to do.
The results were either turnovers, or Lin picking up his dribble way too early.
But in the end all of that is just nit-picking. Lin had the right idea attacking the basket at every possible opportunity, finding holes in New York's defense and keeping all five opposing players constantly on their heels.
Lin began the game with great on-ball defense, covering Ray Felton above screens and closely contesting all his shots. Even though a few of them dropped, Lin did all a defender could in those situations. He was also not afraid to be aggressive, coming up with several loose balls.
When he was matched up with Jason Kidd, Lin lost track of him a few too many times, but was lucky not to get burnt on any deep balls. Lin was officially credited with only two steals, but it felt like more and the result was always a quick transition opportunity.
Lin's pressure defense increase the pace, allowing him to race up and down the court for easy baskets at the rim.
Handling of the Moment
The Rockets made Lin comfortable by setting him up with a quick back door cut on their very first offensive possession.
He went on to score eight points in the first quarter, all of them coming right at the basket. He looked more fearless and comfortable in those opening moments than any other game this season, which is truly remarkable given the pressure and eyeballs this matchup forced over his head.
What a game this was from Jeremy Lin.
By the end of the third quarter he had 20 points, eight assists and the Rockets held a 23-point lead. (He ended up going back in the game in the fourth quarter, but only tallied two more points.) Aside from a few turnovers early on that were birthed by aggressive play, nothing could have gone better for Lin and the Rockets on Monday.
He took on Tyson Chandler in the paint, controlled the game's tempo by racing at a breakneck speed, and basically dominated the game with fantastic decision-making and shot selection.
A week ago, Lin scored 38 points against the San Antonio Spurs, but it's very difficult to say that this performance wasn't his most impressive of the year.