All right, Jeremy Lin. We get it. You’re for real.
Steve Novak, a backup sharpshooter for the New York Knicks, wants to amend a statement he made before Lin ignited Madison Square Garden on Friday night, on national television, by torching Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers for 38 points in a 92-85 Knicks win. “I take back everything I said, that it’s unrealistic that he’ll average 25 points and 10 assists,” Novak says. “I’m now going to say he’ll average 35 and 11.” Entering last night’s game, Lin – the former Harvard star, and NBA non-entity – had scored more than 20 points in three straight outings, all Knick wins. “After the first game, it was, ‘wow, he played great,’” Novak says. “After the second game, it was ‘wow, he’s really stepping up.’ After the third game, he started making believers out of everyone. After this game … I know it’s early. But he keeps getting better every game. It’s real. I’m saying in the next game, he might score 50. I feel like I’m a part of history.”
He is. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 89 points Lin has scored in his first three starts is the most of any NBA player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-1977. That’s right: more than Jordan, more than Bird, more than LeBron. Last night’s game against the Lakers was supposed to quiet some of the hype. After all, Lin had lit up a bad New Jersey Nets team, a tired Utah Jazz team, and an awful Washington Wizards team. These were the Lakers, and Kobe Bryant. Sure, Los Angeles is no longer dominant. But the Lakers still employ the same starting five — Bryant, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher, Andrew Bynum, and Metta World Peace, née Ron Artest — that won the NBA title two years ago.
Instead, within the game’s first five minutes, Lin hit a three-pointer, two jumpers and a layup, threw a no-look pass to Tyson Chandler for a dunk, had a steal, and drew a loose ball foul on World Peace. (What’s foul about World Peace?) Later, Lin’s twisting layup against Fisher drew admiring ahhhhhhs. By halftime, Lin had 18 points, and the crowds rushed through the Garden’s corridors to grab Lin merchandise. “Where’s the Lin gear at?” one man yelled while draped in a Taiwanese flag. The shoppers, however, left disappointed. Some 1,000 Lin jerseys sold out before tip-off.
Like the point guard Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni mentored in Phoenix, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, Lin has a knack for worming his way into the middle of the paint, and keeping his dribble alive while defenders surround him. “He’s a spinning top,” says former Knick Anthony Mason, one of several team alums on hand to see Lin. He’s also fearless, going shot-for-shot with Bryant, who finished with 34 points, down the stretch. At one point, Lin was matched up with Lakers center Pau Gasol at the top of the key. Most shorter guards look to drive around the bigger trees. Instead, Lin launched a long three-pointer — outside shooting was supposed to be Lin’s weakness — right in Gasol’s face. Swish. At another point, Lin pumped-faked a three-pointer from the corner, took one dribble in and launched a high-arcing jumper that almost hit the ceiling. The New York crowd did, after it fell through the net.
Lin even took a charge in the last minute to seal the game. “This is a once in a lifetime thing,” D’Antoni says. “I don’t know what to tell you.” Lin’s sheepish smiles let you know that he can’t quite believe what he’s doing either, and he’s loving the surprise as much as we are. “His personality rubs off on everybody,” D’Antoni. “It’s becoming a love-fest. Sloppy. Sappy.” But the love is certainly real.
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