There was no gloating in the locker room late Thursday night, no overt festivity over winning a February home game heading into the All-Star break against a leg-weary opponent playing its second game in two nights and fourth in five. But there were none-too-subtle hints that this had become a game to circle on the schedule, an opportunity to restore a semblance of sanity, if you will, to what had turned into a New York spectacle and in many respects a news media circus.
“I don’t know if anybody’s tuned in to watch us lately, but that’s what we do,” Dwyane Wade said, commenting on a suffocating Miami defense that left feeling as if he had tried to dribble through the time trials at Daytona.
Of Miami’s big three, Wade, the only one with a championship ring, is the most relaxed and humored in his speaking delivery. And while he praised Lin and the after the Heat buried them, , he also did not mind saying that he was as fatigued with the hype as the rest of the N.B.A. had to have been with last season’s Heat.
He had the audacity to needle ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that the network’s ratings had precipitously dropped in his house.
“As a fan of the game, you’re happy for someone like that, knowing his story,” Wade said. “Congratulations to him. Early on, he deserved it. But then, it kept going and kept going. That’s how it was last year with us. I like the kid as a fan but there’s only so much I can listen to. After a while, it’s, O.K., can we listen to something else?”
With that, and with Lin shooting 1 for 11, committing eight turnovers and being harassed and stripped by Mario Chalmers and a precocious rookie out of Cleveland State named Norris Cole, the season’s first half came to a close, along with the notion that Lin was some unstoppable force or heavenly phenomenon. As opposed to being what he really is, and what most clear-minded folks and Knicks fans simply prefer him to be: a point guard who sees the floor and who can get into the lane — against most teams, anyway — and has emerged as a great basketball story.
He could go to Orlando to play in the Rising Stars game Friday night (after Commissioner David Stern said, come on, don’t be silly) because the entire weekend is a staged-for-television event and because Lin has earned that much over three eye-opening weeks. But, no, he was never going to be added to Sunday’s big-boy game, and the mere thought of his being selected over one of a bumper crop of point guards for the United States Olympic team was utterly ridiculous.
In our desire to do justice to a story, we invariably overdo. If Lin had lit up the Heat as he did the Lakers and the Mavericks, there might have been a groundswell of support for him to declare himself a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
People — and especially the Taiwanese-Chinese community — have had every right to celebrate his unique and endearing coming-out party in a perfect storm of spotlight-generating circumstances. But Lin is not likely to precipitate a tide of Asians into the N.B.A. any more than Tiger Woods, once similarly celebrated, was a pied piper for men of color into golf. Nor will there soon be a rush of pro scouts into gymnasiums at Harvard, Princeton and Cornell. An Ivy League pedigree does not authenticate one as an unselfish passing genius.
Larry Bird: Indiana State. Magic Johnson: Michigan State. LeBron James: St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. By and large, the vision thing is a natural talent more than a practiced habit.
“He’s done an unbelievable job,” Wade said, referring to Lin. “The big thing is that their team’s winning. And that’s why he got it because he was helping his team win. But once you get up here, he’s got to extend that stardom because now he’s on everyone’s radar. There’s a good reason for it because he’s worked hard. But he’s got to continue to push, and that’s what changes good players to great players.”
With its athletic, long-armed athletes, Miami plays a trapping, quick-recovery defense and was the first to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Lin to advance his dribble.
“He’s a competitor, he kept trying to come back, but you could definitely tell it was something new,” Cole said of Lin. “He was giving it up early, picking it up, giving the ball to the other playmakers quicker. He’s put up some good numbers — historic numbers. But that’s what pressure does to anybody. I think every young guard has that. I’ve had a couple of those nights.”
Cole wouldn’t name the opponents but we may assume it wasn’t Toronto, Washington or New Jersey, among the indifferent defenders Lin has shredded.
“Yeah, yeah, we try to go out every night and bring that playoff intensity,” said Wade, still not conceding it was turned up for the benefit of Lin. “Obviously he’s going to learn from this. He’s going to adjust because that’s what good players do.”
Good, even very good, but not yet great. Great is a process, proven over more than a comparatively soft stretch in the regular-season schedule. Great is excelling in the heat of the playoffs. Now Lin at least has some idea of what that is going to take if and when the Knicks get there.