Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are on notice. Knicks fans will be watching very closely when the team’s two superstars return to the lineup. Very closely.
Last night, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers walked into Madison Square Garden and found they had walked into a time warp. It was the Garden like they hadn’t seen it in about a dozen years.
You can credit Jeremy Lin, the unlikeliest of New York sports stars, and his growing legion of fans for this Lin-Derella story.
Lin played his college ball for Harvard, was undrafted (naturally) and wound up at the end of the Golden State Warriors’ bench last year. Eventually he was cut by the Warriors and the Houston Rockets, before ending up playing for Erie in the NBA’s Development League.
Due to a solid performance in the “D” League, Lin earned a ticket to the end of the Knicks’ bench, but it wasn’t until the struggling club had run out of options at point guard that Coach Mike D’Antoni turned to Lin. It’s become the kind of move that saves a coach’s job and launches a player’s star.
Last night, the Knicks’ new point guard made it four straight sensational outings, the last three as a starter.
The Lakers presented Lin with his toughest challenge yet, but he responded with his best performance. Billed as Lin-Sanity meets Kobe Bryant, Lin outscored the NBA legend 38 to 34 and even handed out seven assists in New York’s 92-85 victory.
But don’t get caught up in the Lin-Sanity vs. Kobe battle. They didn’t go head to head, and no one should compare the talent levels. Only LeBron James belongs in the same conversation with Kobe.
No, what was more impressive was the fact that Lin was able to penetrate the middle against two of the NBA’s top big men in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and find the open man.
Find the open man. Now, that’s a concept that old-time Knicks fans can appreciate.
Sure he committed a few wild turnovers, and his stamina will be tested as his playing time increases, but there’s enough in Lin’s game for Knicks fans to be excited about. Very importantly, when Los Angeles dared him to shoot, Lin hit his outside shots while displaying good form.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lin has scored more points (89) in his first three starts than anyone since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-1977. That includes Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe, LeBron or anyone else you can name.
But focusing on Lin’s total points is missing the point – totally.
He has shown great court vision and an ability to get all his teammates involved. The entire team is playing with great chemistry right now, believing that Lin will get them the ball if, and when, they get open. In today’s NBA, that’s a very valuable commodity. Someone may even say, “Priceless.”
Soon, New York’s two most expensive commodities will both return to the lineup. Lin’s scoring can be expected go down then, but the Knicks should be a better club. They will still have Lin to distribute the ball, and Stoudemire and Anthony are gifted offensive players. Either of them is a better finisher than anyone else the Knicks have playing now.
Those who are thriving with more playing time should continue to get the opportunity to provide the same type of energy and production, although in reduced roles.
It should make for a better starting five; a stronger bench.
If it doesn’t turn out that way, Knicks fans’ memories won’t have far to travel. They’ll remember the night when Lin hit the big stage and didn’t back down from the Lakers. They’ll remember how it felt when 12 years of frustration melted away as they embraced this humble kid from Harvard and his teammates, who completely bought into Lin-Sanity just as the fans did.
If it doesn’t turn out that way, Knicks fans will want to know why. And they’ll point fingers.
If the team can’t make it work with Stoudemire and Anthony, Knicks fans will wonder, maybe one or both of them have to go.