Lin’s the real star on Broadway
Call it a novelty, call it a gimmick, call it a fad, call it whatever you want. Whatever it is, it’s not going away anytime soon, and thank goodness it’s not, because it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch.
Over the past 12 days, Jeremy Lin’s success has transcended basketball and mesmerized fans the world over, and the captivating 23-year-old is proving he’s not the flash in the pan his few detractors would like him to be.
Once an unknown benchwarmer — one whom Madison Square Garden security regularly mistook for a trainer — Lin added another chapter to his storybook journey Wednesday night, putting on a passing clinic, dishing out 13 assists to go with 10 points in 26 minutes during the Knicks’ 100-85 win over the visiting Sacramento Kings.
And though it might not have been one of Lin’s best nights on paper — he did have six turnovers and he had scored at least 20 points in each of the past six games — it may have been his most impressive performance to date.
Lin ran the New York offense with the poise of a player who has been fostered in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system for years, not weeks. He established a flow that was nonexistent before he took over the starting point guard job on Feb. 6 against Utah.
He looked like a man who finally has found his niche. And as his legend continues to grow, the thought that Lin could transform the Knicks into a contender in May and June — a proposition that was once utterly laughable — seems more and more believable.
Before Lin burst on the scene with 25 points off the bench in New York’s 99-92 win over New Jersey on Feb. 4, the Knicks had lost 11 of 13 and their prospects for the future — both this season and in the long term — looked bleak.
New York was a team without direction, but Lin stepped in and quietly, efficiently played the role of compass. Now the Knicks have won seven straight games. That success — behind their glue guy, Lin — has brought with it a sense of confidence and a much-needed lightheartedness that was missing in the locker room.
"We were losing games, and we could have started pointing fingers, and we could have said it was the coach’s fault — which, by the way, it wasn’t — and we could have split up," Lin said. "But everyone came together . . . and guys started buying in more and more, and it’s unbelievable right now. The camaraderie on this team is just ridiculous.
"It’s just such a joy to be around them every day. You show up to the practice facility, and it’s all smiles across the board. That’s the beauty of team sports, and that’s the beauty of basketball."
Wednesday night’s easy victory truly was a beauty to watch, as Lin’s crisp passing and stellar court vision led to a plethora of easy baskets — it seemed that nearly every Lin assist was for an alley-oop or set up a wide-open dunk or layup.
The first of Lin’s alley-oop passes found the hands of a slashing Landry Fields, who gave the Knicks an early 11-7 lead with 8:09 left in the first quarter and got the Garden rocking. The next went to Tyson Chandler, who flushed it home and pushed the lead to 15-7.
"Jeremy Lin has a great ability to run the offense," Chandler said. "Coach, for his entire career, has had the ability to make point guards great. I think Jeremy has come in and filled that role perfectly."
Another beautiful dish set up an Amar’e Stoudemire dunk that gave the Knicks a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter. At the end of the period, the Knicks led 25-17. By the half, New York had a commanding 54-36 advantage.
Eventually, it got to the point where you just lost count of the alley-oops and highlight-reel jams. By the end of the third quarter, the scoreboard read 77-55, and Lin’s night was done.
"Every time we drew up a play, they ran it perfectly. Every time there was an opportunity to make a great pass, they did it," D’Antoni said. "I feel like any of these guys I could go down and ask them to do whatever, and they’d do it, and that’s a great feeling as a coach to have a group like that. You don’t have it all the time, but that’s what you strive for."
Many have speculated the return of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the lineup will throw the Knicks’ suddenly crisp offense — one that is currently being spearheaded by Lin and Fields, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday — out of sync.
But it won’t. Not because Anthony won’t want the ball — because he undoubtedly will — but because Lin is a team-first guy who’s flexible enough to do whatever his coach needs him to do to win.
"As a point guard, my field-goal attempts have been really high, and I don’t think that’s necessarily good," Lin said. "I think it’s more my job to distribute and get people in rhythm, and hopefully when ‘Melo comes back — another lethal scorer — my shots will go down and my assists will go up."
Need him to pass? He’ll pass. Need him to score? He’ll score. Need him to draw contact and get to the line? He can do that, too.
He does it all, and he does it all well, and that’s exactly what the Knicks — who all of a sudden are at .500 and within a game of Boston for the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race — most undoubtedly need.
They need someone who’s headstrong enough to keep everyone in line, humble enough to not ruffle feathers and talented enough to hold up his end of the bargain. That’s exactly what they have in Lin.
"I’m really happy with 10 points and 13 assists," D’Antoni said of his new star. "That’s great on a night like tonight. Next night, he might have to get 30 for us to win. Whatever we need to win, I think he’ll do it."
Of course, the Knicks won’t win like this forever, and as the team and its fans remember what it’s like to lose, the novelty of Linsanity may begin to wane. But that doesn’t mean Manhattan’s newest mega-star is going away. The excitement is still palpable, and Lin is hardly a flash in the pan. He’s a bona fide superstar who will be around for a long time.
"He just has a drive that is incredible," said Kings coach Keith Smart, who was Lin’s coach last year in Golden State when the little-known Harvard grad and his untapped potential were riding the bench. "You hope all your young players understand that. He’s on his way for a lifetime career now because he’s managing to master playing basketball in the mecca of basketball. He’s playing very well."