Before the New York Knicks defeated the Utah Jazz 99-88 on Monday night, Jeremy Lin gleefully smiled and shook his head in disbelief as the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden rained down chants of “M-V-P!” upon him. The praise wasn’t without merit, as the undrafted second-year point-guard from Harvard, ended the night with a career-high in points and assists for a stellar encore performance.
Lin, who was released by the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors and signed by the Knicks two days after Christmas, dominated the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night with a career-high 25 points and 7 assists in a Knicks win. Before his breakout performance against the Nets’ All-Star point guard Deron Williams, Lin was still very much a novelty. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Lin, who is only the fourth Asian American to play in the NBA, previous career-high was 13 points in a 28-point loss to the Lakers in November 2010. He set career-highs Saturday in more than half of the individual statistics, including attempts for field goals, free throws, 3-pointers and minutes (36) – as he played 16 minutes more than his previous season-high of 20 against the Rockets. By Monday, Lin was the starting point guard, and put up career-highs, for the second straight night, with 28 points on 10-of-17 shots, eight assists, two rebounds, two steals and eight turnovers, in 45 minutes of action, to lead the Knicks to their first back-to-back victories since early January. How’s that for an encore?
The Knicks began the night without Amar’e Stoudemire, who left to be with his family after the death of his older brother, and lost All-Star Carmelo Anthony to a groin injury in the first six minutes of the opening quarter. With Lin running the show, the ball moved and the offense clicked, transforming the hapless Knicks’ into a productive unit. He turned out another theatrical performance on Broadway, as he was exciting, thrilling and at times erratic, electrifying the Garden crowd play-by-play. With a half-dozen members of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, including Hakeem Nicks, in attendance, “Linsanity” was in full effect. New York led 19-16 after one, gradually increasing their lead to 37-22, midway through the second-quarter, as the Jazz simply couldn’t get any offense going. Knicks small forward Steve Novak, who got major minutes in place of Melo, entered the game with 5:06 left in the half and scored 10 points, with Lin driving into the lane and kicking it out to him in the corner for a 3-pointer with 27 seconds to go that gave the Knicks a 51-38 halftime advantage.
Knicks’ center Tyson Chandler spent most of the night on the bench in foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul about a minute-and-a-half into the third quarter, leaving New York with a lineup of Lin, Novak, Landry Fields, Bill Walker and much-maligned Jared Jeffries. Utah capitalized off the Knicks reserves and nearly erased New York’s lead, cutting the deficit to two points, 75-73, with 45 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Raja Bell. Bell (15 points) scored 11 points in the quarter for the Jazz. Lin opened the final period with a 3-point play on Utah’s C.J. Miles (nine points), then midway through the fourth, delivered the highlight of the evening. Driving through the lane, Lin shifted to his left for a layup, then switched to his right hand at the last second for a reverse, drawing a foul on Jazz forward Al Jefferson (22 points, four rebounds), for another 3-point play and a 10-point Knicks lead, 90-80 with 4:29 left. He made the biggest basket of the game minutes later. Lin caught a tap-out from Chandler and launched a 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock for a 95-86 Knicks advantage that put New York up for good. He broke into a wide smile as he backpedaled up the court and gave his teammates a wink.
Lin, who is also the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, just might have saved Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni’s job for now. D’Antoni, who was on the hot seat for New York’s dismal start, decided to start the breakout guard on Monday, and with Baron Davis’ return still a looming question mark, the position could be Lin’s for a while. A true, pass-first, point guard, especially in the pick-and-roll, Lin repeatedly gave Chandler and Jeffries the ball in good positions to score against the Jazz. Chandler finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, while Jeffries had one of his best games of the season with 13 points and eight rebounds. The seldom-used Novak was the much-needed spark off the bench for the Knicks in Anthony’s absence, finishing with a season-best 19 points. Walker added 11 points and five rebounds and Fields contributed six points, five rebounds and three assists. Anthony groin injury will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
Stoudemire applauded the Knicks (10-15) and Lin’s effort on Twitter following the game on Monday night, stating, “Even though I’m going through hard times right now. #SadDay Great job tonight team (Knicks). Jeremy Lin that’s how we play. Ya boy Sun Tzu.” The Knicks held a moment of silence before the game in memory of STAT’s older brother Hazell Stoudemire, who was killed in a car crash early Monday morning. New York will head to Washington to play the Wizards on Wednesday without STAT and Melo.
Utah falls to 13-10 on the season. The Jazz will play the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.