Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Three summers ago I attended the NBA Summer League for the very first time. Having just become interested in the sport to the point where watching young prospects get their first playing time was very enticing, I have to say that it was one of the best sports experiences I’ve had. Sure, the games don’t really matter, but in this case, I’ll take quantity over quality.
Being able to see Hasheem Thabeet and his seven-foot-three frame block shots one hour and then to move over the big gym for Blake Griffin’s debut in a Clippers uniform the nex was a simple joy. So many young prospects, so many games on one day, so many players walking around by the concession stands because they had yet to make a name for themselves in the NBA.
Two summers ago, after completing an interview with NBATV’s Rick Kamla in which he went off on those who think fantasy basketball is nerdy, I passed by a six-foot-three guard wearing a Mavs’ warm-up shirt that was waiting in line for some nachos or popcorn. I wouldn’t have guessed he was a player had it not been for his Beatz By Dre headphones. Behind wearing socks with sandals, those headphones are the number one indicator that someone plays basketball.
The next day I saw the same person play for the first time. Jeremy Lin wasn’t drafted coming out of Harvard and was added to the Mavs Summer League roster quite simply just to fill the roster. Dallas’ only vested interested in the team lied with two other guards: Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones. Beaubois ran point for the Mavericks but was having a pretty tough time keeping up with his counterpart, Washington Wizards rookie point guard John Wall.
Beaubois was sat down after struggling to get anything going in favor of Lin. Being made up of mostly NBA fanatics, the Summer League crowd was a bit more aware of Lin’s history (being an Ivy league grad) but nothing was expected of him when he checked in. It wasn’t long after that when Lin went toe-to-toe with Wall on both ends of the floor and had the whole gym up and cheering for him.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
Fast forward a year and a half. Lin has had a couple of NBA jobs with the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets but he had been cut by both teams this season. Now Lin is suiting up for the New York Knicks, a team getting worse point guard production from every team that doesn’t start Derek Fisher. They already have four other point guards in the organization but one can’t score (Iman Shumpert), another is in a massive shooting slump (Toney Douglas) and the two veterans are hurt (Mike Bibby and Baron Davis).
After losing two straight games to the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics, Mike D’Antoni’s fate as a coach rides on the result of this game. A loss at home to the New Jersey Nets, the Knicks’ future crosstown rival that still hasn’t paired up their big three, would surely mean the end of his time in New York. Looking for answers, D’Antonio turns to Jeremy Lin.
Lin started off the game making a few nice plays in the first half but the larger story was how terrible Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were playing. Their struggles allowed the Nets to take a lead in the first half. Even though New Jersey’s lead was trimmed to two at the half, the panic was there for D’Antonio, who once again turns to Lin just three minutes into the third quarter.
First Lin drew a charge. Then he got to the free throw line (making one of two). Next he would get a lay-up blocked. Then he would miss a three-pointer, get the ball back again, miss another three, and then collect his own rebound before Landry Fields turned it over. Then he’d connect on a lob to Tyson Chandler. Then he missed another three. Then he collected a defensive rebound, ran the floor and got an AND-1 lay-up to go. And at the end of the think quarter, with the Knicks down five, Lin would get yet another AND-1.
Not all of his plays were positive, but for a team that wasn’t getting any positive plays on offense from their other point guards, the production was well worth the few faults. The Nets played well in the third quarter and the Knicks stopped them from increasing the lead. Lin’s spark played a large role in that. But in the fourth quarter, surely Carmelo and Amare would be the ones to lead the Knicks’ charge to victory, right?
After playing the final eight minutes of the third quarter, Lin began the fourth on the floor. He wouldn’t leave the court until the final buzzer sounded.
What Lin did in the fourth quarter can be reduced to numbers. He had 12 points and two assists. But what can’t be reduced to numbers was what transpired on the floor and in that arena. Lin was playing with extreme confidence but not in the modern day way. He wasn’t heat checking himself with deep three’s and jawing with Deron Williams, whom he thoroughly outplayed in this game. He was believing in himself. He was trusting his abilities to play basketball at the highest level.
With each dribble, the Garden crowd oohed and awed. With every jumpshot, chants of “Jer-em-y” rained down from the rafters. With each drive, the Knicks bench lost it. After a crossover on Deron Williams followed by a driving AND-1 lay-up, his teammates on the floor smiled in disbelief.
After one of his dazzling moves, Lin looked back at the raucous New York bench and stuck his tongue out. After spinning a lay-up off the glass while getting fouled, Lin smiled again, finally seeming to take in the moment. An undrafted player cut twice in a month grinned as he walked to the free throw line after taking over a game in Madison Square Garden as fans that were booing his team in the first half cheered him as their prodigal son.
Deron Williams said after the game that he didn’t know who Lin was prior to the tip. After being beaten off the dribble by him in the fourth quarter, I’m sure he got a good glance at the back of his jersey. Lin was unafraid of the moment. You can downplay it as another regular season game against a poor opponent if you’d like, but for an untested and unproven product playing for a coach 48 minutes away from being canned while facing off against one of the top players in the league, there’s no denying that Lin put on a memorable and meaningful performance last night.
Lin’s line of 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals surprised many who saw it without watching the game but his play was even more confounding. What provoked Lin’s performance was an opportunity but what made it special was his demeanor and style. Lin isn’t the quickest player by any stretch, but his dribble had the Nets confused all night. His first step isn’t a quick burst, but rather a smooth transition from ball-handler to attacker. His shot isn’t perfect, but his motion remained consistent.
Hearing that Lin was denied a place to sleep by his older brother on Friday night and had to sleep on Landry Fields’ couch only makes this tale even more like a comic book. After last night’s performance some are even wondering if the next chapter should be promoting Lin into the starting line-up. While that’s a bit of a stretch, it is important to remember that Lin didn’t just deliver a win for the Knicks last night. To a fan base that was quickly losing faith in their team, he delivered hope.
And all it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.
Photo Credits: Getty Images
Quote by: Terri Guillemets