Unsteady performance from Lin, Knicks ends streak and quiets roar
NEW YORK -- On the heels of a remarkable two-week stretch that saw him rise from unknown bench player to international icon, Jeremy Lin appeared human against the Hornets on Friday. This time, he couldn't save the Knicks, part of an 89-85 loss that temporarily quelled Linsanity's deafening roar.
But what's disconcerting isn't that the Knicks lost, a result that inevitably was destined to happen at some point. It's that it came at the hands of the lowly Hornets -- a 7-23 afterthought buried in the Western Conference cellar -- and that Lin appeared strikingly raw. Though he finished with 26 points and five assists, he committed nine costly turnovers -- five shy of the single-game NBA record -- including eight in the first half alone.
"It was just a lackluster effort on my part," said Lin. "It's on me in terms of taking care of the ball and the game in general."
Each of his noted deficiencies -- his discomfort driving to the left; his knack for making hasty decisions in traffic -- all bubbled to the fore. He attempted passes that weren't available, and routinely tried to cross to his right hand in traffic. After missing Tyson Chandler on a pick-and-roll, he'd fling an errant pass towards the sideline. Lin's heroics abruptly faded -- and his inexperience finally prevailed.
"He was trying to make the home run pass," said Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni. "But at the same time, we weren't making those outside shots, so they weren't coming out."
That was the other glaring weakness. The Knicks shot a meager 4-of-24 (16.7 percent) from three, allowing the Hornets to collapse the interior on defense. Steve Novak and Landry Fields missed open looks they previously made, and, at times, the Knicks seemed one-dimensional. If not for Amar'e Stoudemire's consistent mid-range efforts (he finished with 26 points on 12-of-21 shooting), New York could have been decimated from the get-go.
After commanding the national spotlight, the Knicks resembled an immature upstart against the Hornets. Factor in Carmelo Anthony's return and the surprise signing of J.R. Smith, and where conviction reigned a day ago, questions seemingly abound. For one night, the legions of Lin doubters are satisfied.
But before trumpeting New York's downfall, it's important to keep things in perspective. This is one loss. And despite playing their unmistakably worst basketball since Lin's star-turn, the Knicks came perilously close to winning the game. Even with the Hornets' clear shortcomings, that fact shouldn't go overlooked.
"Certain games you start off flat," D'Antoni said. "When you try to come back everything has to go perfectly and when it doesn't you end up with a loss."
For their litany of mistakes, the Knicks did some good things. They worked efficiently in transition, embodied by a thunderous alley-oop from Lin to Fields to close the first half. They showed resiliency down the stretch, with Lin sinking a coast-to-coast layup to temporarily cut the lead to three. Had they connected on some additional jumpers, tonight's narrative might've been entirely different.
Lin's ballyhooed streak is over. In its wake, however, we're about to find out what these Knicks are made of.
First, the opposition gets tougher. In the eight games dating back to Lin's breakout outing against the Nets, the Knicks have played teams with a combined record of 89-155, five of which rank among the league's worst in defensive efficiency. Over the next eight games, they'll face four of the six most efficient defenses -- Dallas (twice), Atlanta, Miami and Boston -- in a span of two and half weeks.
Then there's the Carmelo issue. As with the Heat's union last season, questions have emerged as to whether Knicks' stars can coexist, whether Lin's swelling celebrity will clash with 'Melo's status as New York's alpha dog. That's yet to be seen, though Lin dismisses the issue.
"Obviously, it's always a good thing when you have more weapons and more playmakers," he said. "Someone with 'Melo's capabilities, you don't get that every day."
Finally, there's the influx of additional role players set to join the roster. In addition to Anthony, Baron Davis -- once thought to be the Knicks' answer at point -- and Josh Harrellson will complete their rehab, and J.R. Smith, a 37.1 percent career three-point shooter signed on Friday to serve as the elusive missing piece, will enter the fold. They could disrupt a team rhythm that worked seamlessly until Friday.
"We're adding guys that are really good," said D'Antoni. "I'd be crazy if I didn't use them."
The most compelling saga in sports is facing its first bout with adversity. The next chapter comes Sunday against the Mavs.