Commentary

Jeremy Lin stellar once again

Knicks point guard continues to quiet doubters with great performance vs. Mavericks

Updated: February 19, 2012, 11:52 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

NEW YORK -- Somebody better come up with a new nickname because the carving job that Jeremy Lin did on the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon vaults well beyond the confines of Linsane.

The Mavs' former summer-league hand turned one of the NBA's stingiest defenses - with cold-blooded defender Shawn Marion, double-teams and frequent high traps -- inside out as he popped off for 28 points and a career-high 14 assists as the New York Knicks ended the Mavs' six-game win streak.

Lin had a hand in 61 of the Knicks' 104 points. He had a game-high five steals, grabbed four rebounds, shot better than 50 percent from the field and dropped three of his six 3-point attempts. And he got it done in the clutch with six points, six assists and two steals in the fourth quarter. He had a hand in seven of New York's final nine points.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
AP Photo/Seth WenigJeremy Lin scored 28 points with a career-high 14 assists in the Knicks' win over the Mavericks.
He played nearly 46 minutes, and for good reason. When he sat for 144 seconds, the Knicks got outscored by seven.

And for the naysayers, yes, Lin did have seven turnovers - and even missed half of his six free throws, so there.

After the dust settled on New York's 104-97 victory, a game that had Lin's fingerprints tattooed on it more than any other in his previous eight games, who was the first to congratulate the 23-year-old instant phenom?

Try the 18-year vet in the blue uniform whose Hall of Fame career is distinguished for engineering victories in so many different ways.

Lin, raised in Palo Alto, Calif., and a close follower of the career of the former California Golden Bear, embraced Jason Kidd near mid-court.

"He was telling me that coming down the stretch I know you're going to make a 3, and I unfortunately didn't do it tonight," Kidd said. "The ones that I did miss, he thought I made, so he's softening me up."

It was not the best of games for Kidd, who turned in a rare game with more turnovers (five) than assists (four). He hit just one of four from beyond the arc in a fourth quarter, in which the Knicks used an 18-6 run to overtake the Mavs and collect an eighth victory in the nine games that Lin has been in the lineup.

"He's a great kid, he's very humble and, again, he plays extremely hard no matter if he makes a mistake or he makes a fantastic play," Kidd said. "He just plays the game the right way, and as a point guard, that's what you love to see."

Lin hit both of his 3s in the fourth quarter, but it was his eight-point burst in the final 3:19 of the third quarter - that started with two beautiful drives, which also drew fouls, and ended with a steal and emphatic dunk -- that took the game out of Dallas' control, chopping a 12-point deficit down to three, 75-72, and getting the Garden crowd howling with pure Linsanity.

"Obviously with the double-team, I was just trying to get rid of it or back it up and wait for the double-team to go away, then I would attack Marion," Lin said. "With the double-team, I hadn't seen that, and it caught me off guard a little bit."

For Marion, it was a humbling afternoon. The Matrix is getting all-defensive team treatment from owner Mark Cuban and deservedly so. In the past two weeks, Marion's been phenomenal guarding up to three positions a game, highlighted by a recent tour of duty against some of the Western Conference's top playmaking point guards.

This Eastern Conference point guard attacked and didn't stop. With 2:57 to go, Lin launched a 3-pointer right over Marion, who had to be leery of Lin's quickness to get into the lane, for a 98-93 Knicks lead. About four minutes earlier, Dirk Nowitzki was matched up on Lin at the arc. Lin exchanged dribbles from hand to hand, picked it up and canned the 3.

"It wasn't so much being that," Marion said regarding Lin's impact on the game. "It's the way they play, the way they get down the court. It's a challenge because you've got shooters coming out on the corners."

Two shooters in particular crushed Dallas in the first and last quarters. Familiar face J.R. Smith made his debut and promptly splashed three 3-pointers to get the Knicks out to a 32-20 first-quarter lead. And in the fourth, Steve Novak, who played the first half of last season with Dallas before not having his contract picked up, hit four 3s in a row to start the period.

Yet, even with Lin's charmed play, Novak's bombs and that other former Mav, Tyson Chandler -- who had 14 points and 10 rebounds -- the Mavs thought they had this one under control. Instead, a 12-point lead evaporated, they get outscored by 10 in the final 12 minutes and Lin's legitimacy took another monumental leap.

It's insane to think that Lin and Dominique Jones were in the same draft class, only Lin didn't get picked while the Mavs paid $3 million to move into the first round to snap up Jones. The overlooked Harvard man then played on the Mavs summer-league squad with Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois. He played better than both then and seems light years ahead now.

Prior to the game, Cuban said he wasn't interested in claiming Lin after the Houston Rockets released him in late December, weeks after the Golden State Warriors gave up on him. Cuban said the club is happy with the guards it has.

"He's tough, he's tough," said Nowitzki, who had 34 points. "I thought we really tried to trap him off the pick-and-rolls, but he's crafty, he knows how to get to the basket, he had a couple of and-1s there. He knows how to cut off, spin and still get to his spot. And he made some tough shots, some tough 3s on some switches; that one over 'Trix was tough."

After Jason Terry scored 13 points and went 3-of-10 from 3-point range, including banging one off the back of the rim going for the tie with 33.9 seconds to go, he said the Knicks can beat anybody in the East. Before the game he called the hoopla surrounding Lin a lot of hype and wondered if the kid can really keep it going, saying, "We'll see when he faces the champs."

With each passing game and each mesmerizing performance, there seem to be fewer doubters questioning if Linsanity is here to stay.

"Why not? Why not?" Kidd said afterward. "I hope he does. It's a great story."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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