Another Lin-sational Week at MSG

Although the Knicks drop two games to inferior opponents, there is still reason to be optimistic
STORY AND PHOTO BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Jeremy Lin at news conference.

It’s been a wild week in New York basketball. Aside from the success he’s brought the Knicks, pushing the team to win eight of their last 10 games as of Wednesday afternoon, sensational or should we say “lin-sational” point guard Jeremy Lin has brought the national spotlight back where it belongs— to New York City!

For well over a decade the Knicks have been a mere footnote each and every basketball season, winning not even a single playoff game since 2001. While the trade for Carmelo Anthony and his matching up with fellow all-star Amar’e Stoudemire in the frontcourt brought a lot of hype, it certainly wasn’t backed up by performance.
Then Lin comes to town and has been playing like a first-class point guard ever since he first got big minutes against the New Jersey Nets on February 4, torching Deron Williams for 25 points and 7 assists. Williams of course would get his revenge this week in a 100-92 victory in which he scored 38.
While back in the 1990s, under the leadership of star center Patrick Ewing and then later Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, as well as coaches Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy, the Knicks were contenders almost every single season, the buzz in the Garden since Lin’s elevation must be more along the lines of the 1970s classic squads because those 1990s Knicks never brought the level of electricity Lin has brought to the building.
The thought of Lin playing as well as he has, leading a team with Carmelo Anthony, one of the top-3 scorers in the league, Stoudemire, one of the best offensive power forwards in the league, and all the other quality pieces they have on the squad, has Knicks fans salivating.
But before we get there, chemistry must be achieved. A big issue is going to be achieving the right balance of offense and defense. Lin’s ascendency took place perhaps not coincidentally while the two big name stars were on the bench. The team played very strong defense during this stretch, so with Anthony and Stoudemire back, the Knicks will have to figure some things out, since neither is a superb defensive player.
While Lin is a fast player who can get an amazing five or six steals in a night, he also was exposed by Deron Williams to not be that strong defending off of the ball.
But weaknesses aside, how can the Knicks blow this? All-star level players at three positions and one of the best defensive players in the league at center, it sounds too good to be true. It has to work.
Even on his off nights, if you can call them off nights, in the last week, Lin has been putting up over 20 points a game. In a loss against the Nets on Monday, the first game all season with all the Knicks pieces intact — Carmelo, Amar’e, Lin, Baron Davis, new addition J.R. Smith, etc. — in which he suffered through a dominating performance by fellow point guard Deron Williams, Lin still had an incredible box score of 21 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals. In spite of this, he didn’t even appear to have a good game.
That’s how you know a player is good, when they put up big numbers and you don’t even notice while the game is going on.
Much has been made of Lin’s incredible turnover prowess, not a good thing obviously, as he would be on pace to set the record for most turnovers in a season if he keeps it up. But there does not seem to be a connection between his turnovers and the Knicks losing; for example he only had three turnovers Monday night and the Knicks lost. As long as the Knicks are winning (or lin-ning) they’ll be glad to put up with his turnovers. Most of them are a byproduct of his aggressive playmaking anyway.
On Sunday, February 19, the Rockland County Times attended the Knicks vs. Mavericks game at Madison Square Garden. The Mavericks are of course the defending champions and have first-ballot Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitski leading their squad. Though he’s had a down year, leading to speculation he’s getting old, Nowitski played like he was 25-years-old, racking up 34 points against the Knicks.
But he was no match for the great Lin, who had an astounding line of 28 points and 14 assists, 5 steals, 4 rebounds and 1 block. These are unheard of numbers!
The most impressive part of the Knicks win was how they came back down the stretch, trailing by 12 points late in the third quarter they began to mount a run, and ultimately behind Lin and some sharp-shooting from 3-point specialist Steve Novak, they pulled away for a 104-97 victory.
The crowd’s energy felt like helium that was inflating the entire Garden, threatening to make it float away or explode. If the Knicks can capture the essence of what Lin has brought to the table and combine it with the other talent on the team, there is no reason they can’t compete game for game with the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
They aren’t there yet, but it should be interesting.