GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni knew exactly why New York fans instantly fell in love with Jeremy Lin.
Lin is a good story. But he also came along at a time when the Knicks really, really needed a good story. The team needed a point guard bad, were looking for some cohesion on offense, the pressure on D’Antoni was mounting and Amare Stoudemire had to leave the team and head to Florida after the tragic loss of his brother Monday.
Then Carmelo Anthony went hobbling to the locker room midway through the first quarter against Utah and the Knicks were suddenly giving significant minutes to two players -- Lin and Jerome Jordan -- who had just recently returned from a short stint in the D-League.
“You never know who’s going to step up,” Tyson Chandler said. “It only takes one guy to step up and all of a sudden everything turns. Jeremy stepped up. He put guys back in their natural positions. All of a sudden, our offense is flowing. Now all of a sudden you see that great offensive team and with the way our defense has been playing, we can get on a roll.”
The Knicks have a winning streak for just the second time this season, after beating New Jersey Saturday, then topping the Jazz Monday, 99-88. Lin, who had played 16 total minutes this season before Saturday, had 25 points and 7 rebounds in 36 mintues off the bench against Deron Williams and the Nets. He then went for 25 points and 8 assists, playing 45 minutes, including the final 36, against Utah in his first career start. Lin became the first player to have at least 25 and 8 since Isiah Thomas, 30 years ago.
Only Lin, Dwight Howard and Kevin Martin have played the entire second, third and fourth quarter of a game this season. D’Antoni said Monday that he was riding him “like friggin’ Secretariat.”
Lin isn’t getting a break, either. He will match up with John Wall when the Knicks face the Washington Wizards Wednesday.
“He’s probably the fastest guard in the league,” Lin said. “I know I’m going to have more than my hands full tomorrow, so I’m going to watch some tape and see what I can do to pick up some tendencies or something.”
Lin is just as aware as anyone of the idea that his flame could fizzle. But for now, at least, he is the Knicks starting point guard. He showed his game against New Jersey wasn’t a fluke, but he knows he still has plenty to prove.
“It can be a two-time wonder, that’s what I’m worried about,” he said.
Things have turned so fast for Lin that he hasn’t looked for a place to live, yet. He said he would wait until the Feb. 10 deadline for Knicks to exercise their option to make his contract guaranteed, which is expected. He said he has received a lot of support from fans through social media and has spoken to most of his former teammates at Harvard, including his former college coach Tommy Amaker.
D’Antoni said he liked Lin when he saw him work out as a rookie last year. Lin showed some talent, but the coach felt Lin needed more time with the team and working through an entire training camp. With the status of Baron Davis’ return still unknown and the Knicks searching for answers at point guard, it was difficult for D’Antoni to pull the trigger on a point guard who played 29 games with Golden State last season and averaged less than 10 minutes per game.
“I had no idea,” D’Antoni said. “There were little bits and pieces. There were some glimmers, but there other things I questioned because I didn’t know and I was afraid to do anything. We’re already in a little bit of a crisis and I just couldn’t be, you know, pulling straws, trying something on a whim. Then other players are looking like, ’Are you crazy?’ if it doesn’t work. He just kept showing stuff a little bit by little bit and we had to look at him. He had one opportunity. He took advantage of it.”
The word on Lin is that he is smart. Basketball-smart, not just Ivy-League-Havard-smart.
“That’s a stereotype,” Lin said. “(Former Knick and Golden State Warrior) David Lee will be the first to tell you that I’m the smartest dumb guy that he knows. So it depends on who you ask.”
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