It happened Saturday night, although even the 17,763 in attendance might still doubt what they saw.
Jeremy Lin, whose unusual résumé is more well known than his game, emerged as the ’ momentary savior, packing the box score with career highs and leading his team to a stress-relieving 99-92 victory over .
Lin scored 25 points, nearly doubling his previous career high, and finished with 7 assists and 5 rebounds, energizing a Knicks offense that desperately needed a boost. He outscored his celebrity teammates, (11 points) and Amar’e Stoudemire (17 points), and outdueled Deron Williams (21 points), the Nets’ All-Star point guard.
Rapturous chants of “Je-re-my!” filled the arena. Every fourth-quarter basket was met with a booming, “Jeremy Linnnnn!” from the public-address announcer, Mike Walczewski. When the final buzzer sounded, blasted from the arena sound system in tribute.
Lin’s performance rescued the Knicks (9-15) from a two-game losing streak, kept them ahead of the rival Nets (8-17) and provided a positive conclusion to their three-games-in-three-nights set.
“He won the game for us,” said Anthony, who struggled through a 3-for-15 shooting night.
It was a performance born of necessity, with the Knicks unsettled at point guard, fatigued by the back-to-back-to-back and slogging through another difficult scoring night. Lin only entered the rotation a week ago. It may be impossible to keep him out now.
Lin ran the pick-and-roll crisply, penetrated the lane repeatedly and converted at the rim frequently, going 10 for 19 from the field. He fed the Knicks’ big men for dunks and layups and played stout defense on Williams, one of the league’s top point guards.
“It’s something we sorely needed,” said Coach Mike D’Antoni, who has been cycling through point guards since training camp in search of a solution.
D’Antoni cautioned everyone not to get carried away, but he had a hard time containing his own giddiness. Asked if Lin might join the starting lineup, D’Antoni chuckled and demurred but said, “We’ll look.”
“The biggest thing is, he’s got a point-guard mentality,” D’Antoni said. “He has a rhyme or reason to what he’s doing, and you can kind of play off that.”
The rookie Iman Shumpert has been starting at point guard, having replaced the ineffective Toney Douglas, while the Knicks wait for Baron Davis to get healthy and take over the position. Lin, who was signed in December to a nonguaranteed contract, is now firmly in the picture and a bit awestruck by the spotlight.
“A little overwhelmed right now,” Lin said with a smile.
Two dozen reporters surrounded Lin after the game, blocking Stoudemire’s locker and causing him to joke, “What’s going on, Jeremy? Can I have my locker back?”
It was a taut game through three quarters, with Anthony off target and Stoudemire hampered by foul trouble, playing only 13 minutes. Lin was at his best in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points to help the Knicks pull away for good.
“I didn’t do a good job containing Jeremy Lin,” Williams said, understating matters.
The Knicks also got huge efforts from Tyson Chandler (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Jared Jeffries (9 points, 10 rebounds) to help offset the struggles of Anthony and Stoudemire.
Before Saturday, Lin had played only 38 games in a two-year career. He had scored only 32 points this season and recently spent two games with the Knicks’ Development-League affiliate.
Lin was cut by the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets in December, each time because of salary-cap maneuvering. The Knicks saw a need and a little potential and claimed Lin off waivers on Dec. 27. Now he seems indispensable.
The humble Lin deferred credit and quoted from the Bible during his postgame interview.
“It just hasn’t really sunk in yet, to be honest,” he said. “I’m still kind of in shock by everything that happened.”
He has plenty of company.
As the Knicks maintain their pursuit of J. R. Smith, Smith continues to tease fans with coy hints . On Saturday, Smith referred to Carmelo Anthony — his former Denver Nuggets teammate — as “family” and referred to himself as a “loyal dude” while mentioning his New Jersey roots. Then again, in another post, Smith wondered aloud what Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers thinks of him. The Lakers are also pursuing Smith, who is playing in China. He cannot return to the N.B.A. until his team’s season ends, which could be late February or March. Mike D’Antoni declined to comment on Smith, but he acknowledged the Knicks’ need for a 3-point shooter.