“He got 38 points in the context of team basketball,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said after his Anthony-and-Amar’e-Stoudemire-less . Was that a message to the injured Anthony, who watched from the bench, where he could not disrupt the resurgently fluid D’Antoni offense with isolation play?
It turns out the much-maligned Knicks bench isn’t that bad, as long as it is starting and Lin is facilitating. Surely more plot twists are ahead in a season that continued Saturday in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves, but the new Disney-like paradigm stars some guy off the street who found a pair of magical sneakers.
rarely happen in big-money professional sports, and especially with a franchise like the Knicks, long known for big-ticket acquisitions like the none-too-compatible forwards Anthony and Stoudemire last season.
Hence, the emergence of Lin is hard to believe, even for someone who has already lived a variation of it.
“Who is this guy? Where’d they find him?” the Giants’ Justin Tuck wondered aloud to a small group of friends while waiting for an elevator after watching Lin — in the most dramatic episode of his new hit reality show, “Harvard to Heaven” — continue to make a mockery of developmental convention.
Granted, compared with the rocket launching of Lin, Victor Cruz’s unheralded rise to pass-catching prominence was aboard a hot-air balloon. And Tuck, a defensive star of the , was somewhat preoccupied a week ago Saturday when the desperate Knicks unleashed Linsanity.
But out on the court after the Knicks’ so-called junior varsity won its fourth straight game, a gentleman who has seen it all at the self-proclaimed World’s Most Famous Arena — or believed he had — shook his head in giddy disbelief.
“I’ve been coming here since high school in 1955,” said Cal Ramsey, leaning on a cane in the runway. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, just out of nowhere.”
Long after his bewildered teammates had trudged into the night, Bryant emerged to say in hushed tones for gravitas: “When a player is playing that well, he doesn’t come out of nowhere. It seems like he comes out of nowhere. Go back and take a look, and the skill level was probably there from the beginning, it’s just that we didn’t notice it.”
Whatever D’Antoni was watching at practice for the first month and a half of the season, whatever Lin’s coaches at Golden State and Houston somehow missed, have we all seen enough of Lin to call him the Knicks’ grandest stroke of fortune since the league arranged for them to win the Patrick Ewing lottery (just kidding, Commissioner) in 1985?
Maybe this astonishing breakout is more a commentary on an American style of play that has evolved from the look-at-me, A.A.U. culture. In pass-first Europe last season, Ricky Rubio, Lin’s opponent Saturday night, was said to be regressing as a player. In Minnesota, he has become a family jewel.
But Linsanity — on the New York stage — became in one week the most infectious grass-roots movement since the Tea Party.
“I didn’t think it would last, to tell you the truth,” said Ramsey, who has been part of the Knicks family in many roles, player to promotions. “But he’s so composed out there, doesn’t get excited. He turns the ball over, but that’s going to happen with guys who handle the ball that much.”
Ramsey smiled and said, “Did you see that spin move on the break?”
to Derek Fisher’s attempted physicality and foreshadowed Fisher’s taking a seat that might as well have been a rocker.
If not for Lin, this could have been about a Lakers team that is slow and shallow and may leave Bryant feeling 75 years old by the end of this brutally condensed schedule. But the takeaway from the night was how Lin answered more questions about his game with exclamation points.
Could he get to the rim and finish against the Lakers’ 7-footers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol? However heavy-legged he and his teammates were from the previous night’s overtime victory in Boston, Bynum wound up comparing Lin to Steve Nash.
“A lot like Nash, only more aggressive to the basket,” he said after Lin continually broke the Lakers down, persistent even after being stuffed or double-teamed and forced to retreat.
Could Lin shoot well enough from the perimeter when defenders inevitably sagged to limit his penetration? He began the game with a flurry of jumpers. He iced it by sticking a 3-pointer behind the key in Gasol’s face, then setting up a left-side 18-footer with a gorgeous pump fake and step-in.
He made a believer of Bryant, who one night earlier in Boston had confessed total ignorance to the fuss.
“I think it’s a great story,” Bryant said, while playing down potential complications whenever Anthony returns. “I think Melo having the ball in his hands in this town is a little bit overrated. That’s where he operates, on the post. He’s not going to be the facilitator. Melo can put the ball in the basket, do what he does best.”
That said, Bryant took a few seconds to “talk smack” with Anthony before the start of the second half. He wouldn’t say what he told his Olympic team buddy. But it might have been something like, “We could use you more than these guys.”