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Jeremy Lin Igniting The Knicks
Posted By Tommy Beer On February 9, 2012 @ 8:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Credentialed reporters have access to NBA locker rooms for a total of 45 minutes, beginning 90 minutes prior to tip-off, on game days. Veterans, especially stars, typically (conveniently) steer clear of the locker room during this 45-minute stretch. Whether they stay on the trainers table or get some shots up, vets craftily find ways to avoid hounding questions from nagging reporters.
So last Saturday night, inside the bowels of the newly renovated Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks locker room was devoid of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire when an unheralded second-year pro out of Harvard casually strolled in relatively unnoticed and grabbed some fruit off of a food tray. No newspaper scribe ran over and asked him for a sound bite. The network’s roving reporting team didn’t request a sit-down interview. After a while, one reporter from a small weekly newspaper in Queens approached him and started up a conversation regarding the current Ivy League standings, mentioning how well Columbia had been playing of late. After a few minutes of conversation, the player politely excused himself and meandered out into the hallway.
The next time Jeremy Lin would enter that same locker room, he would find a pack of over 30 men holding notepads, voice recorders, and/or cameras converging on him.
The Knicks game at MSG last Saturday night began just as so many others have this season – with New York quickly falling behind by double-digits. After about eight minutes had elapsed in the first quarter, Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, desperately seeking a point guard who could revive the stagnating offense, turned to Lin.
And just as badly as the D’Antoni offense needed a penetrating point guard, the Knicks needed a spark. Enter Lin.
As he approached the scorers table, Lin received a modest ovation from the anxious crowd, who were begging for a reason to cheer. Lin immediately supplied some energy and some offense, propelling the Knicks into the lead in relatively short order. D’Antoni didn’t take him out for the rest of the first half.
In the third quarter D’Antoni didn’t wait a full eight minutes to get Lin back into the action, instead subbing in Jeremy only four minutes after the start of the second half. Again, D’Antoni didn’t take Lin out the rest of the way. He couldn’t afford to. The Knicks won 99-92. Lin finished with a career-high 25 points off the pine. He also chipped in seven assists (versus just one turnover) and five boards. He posted a plus/minus of +13, a game-high. By the end of the fourth quarter, the raucous, electric crowd was alternating chants of “M-V-P” and “JER-EMY” whenever Lin stepped to the free throw line.
After the final buzzer, the Knicks locker room was only slightly less frenzied than the arena. Reporters and cameramen swarmed Lin’s locker, waiting for New York’s newest media sensation to emerge from the shower.
As soon as Lin entered the room, the herd closed in. Billy Walker smiled, pointed and shouted from the other side of the room: “There he is! There’s Jeremy Lin!” Landry Fields, who had just finished explaining that Lin slept on Landry’s couch the night before and declared Lin was an “inspiration,” jokingly joined Walker in directing the media traffic to towards the man of the hour. “There he is, everybody! It’s Jeremy Lin!”
The pack converged and within seconds people were leaning all over each other trying to capture every word that came out of Lin’s mouth.
“This night, it just hasn’t really sunk in yet to be honest,” Lin said. “It’s like I’m still kind of in shock about everything that happened but I’m just trying to soak it all in right now.”
In many NBA locker rooms teams will surround their superstar’s with – shall we say – players who demand less attention from the media. At the Garden, Lin’s locker sits directly besides that of Amar’e Stoudemire. Amar’e entered the locker room on Saturday night, saw that he was blocked from getting close to his stall and paused. “What the …?” Stoudemire said with a smile. “Um, I’m not used to this, guys.”
The Knicks had lost 11 of their prior 13 games heading into that matchup with New Jersey. At 8-15 and seven games under .500, it seemed as if their 2011-2012 season, which began with such high hopes, might be flushed down the drain before the Super Bowl was played.
But for that night at least, there was a jovial and cheerful vibe encompassing the team. As we now know, that night was just the beginning of a tidal wave of “Linsanity” that has not only engulfed New York and the internet, but entire NBA universe as well.
The Knicks have won three straight games, including the last two without the services of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. All three wins have been keyed by the sensational play of Jeremy Lin.
While the statistics provide the context of just how spectacular his play has been (and we’ll get into that in a moment), his impact on the team’s collective psyche – illustrated by his cheerful, grinning Knicks on Saturday – has also been a important ingredient in their recent success. For the first five weeks of the season, the Knickerbockers seemed bogged down by outsized expectations. They appeared deflated and sullen, dealing with an onslaught of injuries and disappointing losses. Fans were booing. D’Antoni’s job security was a topic touched upon daily by the tabloids. Foreboding negativity was creeping in from all angles.
Lin’s play, his passing, and his mere presence has had an incredibly positive impact on this organization, essentially since the moment he checked in during the first quarter of that Nets game. It seems as if there has been more enthusiastic whooping and towel-waving from the Knicks bench over these last three games than in the prior month combined. Winning is obviously part of the equation, but does winning beget improved chemistry and cohesiveness? Or is it the other way around?
One thing is for certain: the Knicks have been more efficient and effective with a true point guard steering the ship.
As was detailed in this space last week, Toney Douglas’ struggles as the teams starting point guard have debilitating and demoralizing. Far too often, New York’s offense was grinding to a halt on important possessions, with Carmelo forced to create a shot for himself as the shot clock winded down. Amar’e Stoudemire had also been unable to find a rhythm as no Knicks PG has been able to effectively run the pick-and-roll, a staple of D’Antoni’s offense since his days in Phoenix.
The transformation under Lin has been stark and spectacular. Lin’s ability to penetrate into the paint and create easy lay-ups or dunks for his teammates has been just what Doctor D’Antoni ordered.
The website Hoopdata.com computes in-depth box scores which detail advanced statistics. One such stat they tally is “assists which lead to baskets at the rim.” In his breakout performance against Deron Williams and the Nets, Lin had sixassists that led directly to easy buckets for his teammates. That represented a season-high in such assists for any Knicks player this season. Lin has compiled seven more such assists in the Knicks latest two wins. Former starter Toney Douglas is averaging less than one “at the rim” assist per game this season.
After the win over the Wizards, a grieving Amar’e Stoudemire tweeted: “Another great game tonight Knicks!! It seems like everyone is buying into the system an playing team basketball. I can’t wait to join.”
And in addition to dishing off to his teammates, Lin has also been able to finish effectively on his own on his forays into the paint. Lin is averaging over six lay-ups per game over NY’s last three contests. He has attempted 23 shots at the rim during that stretch, converting 19 of them. He is shooting over 70% on all field-goal attempts inside the three-point line. Good things tend to happen when point guards get into the paint.
How about these factoids, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau: On Monday night against the Utah Jazz, Lin became the player to score 28 points and dish out eight assists in his fist career start since Isiah Thomas accomplished that feat back in 1981. And of course Lin backed it up with another terrific outing against John Wall and the Wizards on Wednesday, becoming the first player with 20+ points and 8+ assists in his first two starts since LeBron James in the 2003-2004 campaign. Not bad company to be mentioned with…
In addition, Lin has also made a major impact on the defensive end. His on-ball defense against Deron Williams was surprisingly solid. That was actually the first thing D’Antoni mentioned when discussing Lin’s dominant performance. “The biggest thing was his defense,” said D’Antoni after the game. Lin has racked up a total of five steals since his entrance into the rotation.
The question now is whether or not Lin’s terrific play (which has inspired some horrific puns) can continue. The Knicks take on Kobe and the Lakers in a nationally televised match-up on Friday night.
Lin certainly hasn’t been the only reason for New York’s recent success. Tyson Chandler, the Knicks MVP up to this point in the season, has been incredible on both ends of the floor. Landry Fields has emerged from a six-month funk and is backing doing the things that earned him Rookie of the Month honors last year. The underappreciated Jared Jefferies has filled in admirably for Stoudemire. Steve Novak has helped spread the floor and stretch defenses by knocking down three’s.
Eventually, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire will work their way back into the mix, and it will be interesting to see how that transition takes place.
Nonetheless, hope and optimism are once again growing at The Garden, thanks in large part to an unheralded point guard that has taken the city by storm.
Over the past couple of days, the Knicks PR staff has been absolutely inundated with requests from local and national media outlets alike, all requesting interviews and/or a just few minutes of Lin’s time. What a difference just three games can make…
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