What Jeremy Lin Will Take Away from the NBA Playoffs

Marshall Zweig@ihavethewriteContributor IIMay 3, 2013

The glasses-wearing Lin looks ready to learn, which is fortunate, because the master class called the playoffs is in session.
The glasses-wearing Lin looks ready to learn, which is fortunate, because the master class called the playoffs is in session.Bob Levey/Getty Images

The headline sounds so final, when Jeremy Lin and his Houston Rockets might in actuality be hanging around these playoffs a while longer.

After all, the Rockets have already made history, becoming—along with the Boston Celtics—one of just 12 teams to force a Game 6 after being down three games to none.

The difference between the two: I fully expect Lin's former team, the New York Knicks—even without Amar´e Stoudemire—to defeat the Celtics. By contrast, Lin's current opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder, seem eerily vulnerable without Russell Westbrook. Further, the Rockets have momentum as well as the series equalizer on their home court.

So Lin might have more to glean if the Rockets do press on in this postseason.

But thus far, all Lin has to show for Houston's stirring comeback attempt is a bruised chest and a bruised ego.

What can Jeremy Lin take away from these playoffs after five games?


"[I] have a lot of learning to do"

Lin himself said the above quote just days ago to the New York Times. And really, there is nothing more important for a young point guard to learn than that he's got more to learn.

The quote seems in keeping with the Lin I know and admire. He's always shown himself to be an eager, willing and dedicated student. It's a noble and humble trait.

And it's a trait that, after this inauspicious playoff debut, might just save Lin.

Using an analogy that tips a cap to Jeremy's salad days in the Big Apple, if Lin's playoff performance thus far were a Broadway play, any reviewer worth his salt would have no choice but to call it a colossal flop.

He's made exactly one three-point shot in nine attempts spanning three games. He's averaging 6.6 points per 36 playoff minutes. His defense has been a liability.

After a banner April, Lin entered the postseason playing his best basketball as a Rocket. With the incandescent lights of the playoffs glaring down on him, however, Lin has played his worst.

If it's not surprising to you, you haven't been paying attention. Lin made his reputation last year for not only his combination of grace and aggressiveness, but for his ability to hit in the clutch.

That's been no different this season: According to 82games.com, Lin was 47th in the league this year in points scored in the clutch. If that doesn't sound impressive to you, consider that Lin finished ahead of a whole passel of clutch-play household names: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Manu Ginobili.

But many will tell you clutch only counts in the playoffs. If that's the case, Lin has been miserably un-clutch, both offensively and defensively—so un-clutch that he's been replaced by his understudy.

Yes, I'm saying the awful truth is even if Lin is 100 percent healthy, Francisco Garcia will likely continue to start.

And be honest: Pretend you're the Rockets coach, and your team's won two straight without Lin after falling behind 0-3. No matter how much you root for Lin—an upbeat and hardworking young man who's impossible not to like as a person—could you in good conscience go back to the lineup that put you in the hole in the first place?

Lin had his chance to seize the moment when Westbrook went down. What might he have done in Game 3 had Lin not been injured himself? We'll never know.

But we do know it was Garcia who carpe-d the diem, replacing Lin in the third quarter and sparking a furious Rockets comeback that fell just short. Patrick Beverley's playoff numbers and performance have been superior to Lin's as well.

I know some readers will be prone to defending Lin's poor performance, saying it came against Westbrook, unquestionably one of the game's finest point guards.

If that's you, I'd first ask whether you were also one of those who held Lin's 29-point regular-season performance against Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder as definitive proof of Lin's dominance. If you did, perhaps you might explain to me the discrepancy between that game and these playoffs.

Or perhaps you can help me understand Lin's play on this possession. The pass is crisp enough, and clearly to Kevin Durant's outside hand. What on earth is Lin doing going for a steal here?

Lin had solid defensive positioning; had he maintained his feet, Greg Smith would have provided help defense, and together they would have made this shot much more difficult for Durant.

Instead, Lin goes for a steal he never should have attempted, rolling out a red carpet for Durant to slam one home. Worse yet, he breaks late, making the whole sequence look almost comical.

All in all, it's a play that would get him benched on the frigging Washington Generals.

His playoff stint has been short, but plays like the above have made Lin look decidedly outmatched. It's enough to make even the staunchest Lin fan uneasy the next time Jeremy takes the floor.

To be sure, Westbrook is a tough cover, and a strong perimeter defender. To that I say: so what. As a fan who still holds out hope that Lin too can be one of the game's finest point guards, I am certain it serves Lin much more for us to be realists rather than apologists.

A healthy Jeremy Lin certainly deserves court time against Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher, the Thunder's replacements for Westbrook. And he'll get it.

Moreover, a productive Jeremy Lin is good for the NBA—he boosts viewership and fan interest both internationally and domestically—and good for life, as everyone with a heart was inspired by his goosebump-inducing ascension from end-of-the-bench journeyman to superstar.

But with his performance in these playoffs, Lin—like Charley in Flowers For Algernon—appears to have reverted to what he used to be.

It gives me no pleasure to write these words. All season long, I have been hoping, sometimes desperately, for a clear sign that Lin had turned a corner, so I could write about it and celebrate it. There were moments to be celebrated, quarters, games. But not enough, not nearly enough. And mixed in were too many moments best forgotten.

Now, these playoffs leave me truly in doubt about what this young man's future will hold.

Don't get me wrong. I am in no way counting Jeremy Lin out. He's got the offseason to assess all that he needs to improve upon. He in fact did improve in many key areas during the regular season. And he plays the position in professional basketball at which there is no greater learning curve.

But in the playoffs, Lin has learned there is no time for learning. Literally everything is expected of you, and if you can't deliver, the moment will demand someone who can.


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