HOUSTON — If something can be remarkable specifically because it was unremarkable, then Jeremy Lin was remarkable Friday night.
Because he wasn’t. Make sense?
Lin had a nice game in his first game against the New York Knicks, a 131-103 Rockets win at Toyota Center in Houston. He scored 13 points, had three assists, four turnovers and one steal.
“His swag was good,” interim Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson said.
But considering Lin was one of the most remarkable stories in sports last year while he was with the Knicks, and considering the buildup to his first game against his former team, and considering how controversial his exit from New York was, the remarkability of Lin’s performance Friday was found in its normalcy.
For once he was just a normal NBA point guard, having a normal game.
“It wasn’t about Jeremy,” James Harden said.
Harden was right, of course. He led the Rockets with 33 points and had nine assists. Chandler Parsons had 31 on 13-for-17 shooting. And the Rockets (6-7) crushed the Knicks (8-3) on a night Carmelo Anthony threw up 37 points.
“It was good to compete with some of my old friends,” Lin said.
Any true analysis of Lin has to start with his numbers, because they form an elephant that grows pinker by the day.
Jeremy Lin entered Friday’s game averaging 10.0 points and 6.3 assists per game. He was shooting 33 percent from the field and 23 percent from the 3-point line. He was put on the bench for the final minutes of the Rockets’ previous game.
He was asked if it was possible for that guy in New York — the magical “Linsanity” guy — to ever return again.
“I’m not looking to re-create what happened in New York,” Lin said. “I want to be a consistent player. I want to get better. I don’t know what my potential is.”
A month ago, that game would have felt like some kind of grudge match. Lin and Knicks fans were upset the franchise let him get away to Houston by not matching the Rockets’ three-year, $25 million contract offer. He was welcomed in Houston like some kind of savior, as this was before the Rockets signed James Harden.
In retrospect, you could call this The Great Overreaction of 2012. But that’s only hindsight. It was difficult to know in October just what Lin would be. And it’s still difficult to know. Just as it was in New York, his sample size in Houston is so small.
“I don’t know if I can play any better during that one stretch,” he said. “We’ll see how close I can get.”
His play turned him into more of a sideshow Friday than the main event he used to be.
The Knicks, as it turns out, are doing okay with Raymond Felton at point guard instead of Lin. They entered Friday’s game at 8-2, which was the best record in the Eastern Conference. Felton is averaging 15.7 points and 6.9 assists and had 17 and eight Friday. He is shooting 44 percent from the field and 42 percent from the 3-point line.
Then the Rockets played their best game of the year, the Knicks played their worst, and Lin had one of his better games too.
But the fact that 13 points and three assists qualified as one of Lin’s best games of the year does help illustrate this whole thing.
The best players on the floor early were Chandler Parsons and Carmelo Anthony. They both scored 18 in the first quarter, and began the second matched up with each other.
That duel lasted most of the night, but it was hardly consequential. Against a team that entered the game ranked third in the NBA in defense, Houston hit highs in field goal shooting (52 percent) and points. Six players hit double figures in scoring, including center Omer Asik (18 points and 14 rebounds), and the Rockets scored 21 second-chance points.
“They caught us on the wrong night probably,” Sampson said. “Our team’s improving, though.”
The Rockets were open all night, and you could come up with a narrative about that. Something about the Knicks focusing too much attention on their former teammate.
But you’d have to do that without an assist from Lin.
“I don’t think that had anything to do with me,” Lin said.