NEW YORK -- After previous bench leftover Jeremy Lin shocked the Big Apple with a career-high 25 points and by handling the starting point guard position better than anyone had all season for the Knicks, it was clear why Mike D'Antoni was impressed with the 23-year-old's composure.
Lin was able to carry out his best game as an NBA player because he didn't allow a few moments of adversity during the Knicks' 99-92 victory over the Nets get to him. After the game, the head coach pointed to a stretch in the third quarter that, he said, could've rattled most players who were getting their first extended playing opportunity.
Soon after D'Antoni subbed in Lin for Iman Shumpert with 8:17 left in the third, Lin missed five consecutive shots. But D'Antoni kept him in the game, and his move paid off in the final seconds. He connected on an And 1 with three seconds remaining in the period, which pulled the Knicks within two, 72-70, after they were down seven.
"Just his composure. That's the biggest thing, because he missed about three or four wide-open shots, and we were struggling," D'Antoni said. "That could've, in his position without a lot of experience, crumbled most people. But he just took it again and took it again and he got it right. That's a credit to his mental toughness, and he obviously played well."
After the Nets game, some of the players talked about how Lin's composure was evident right when he started practicing with the team after the season had already started. They said he never looked overwhelmed, just focused on the task at hand. And it showed in the drills.
"When they go in there and play 3-on-3, he kills. He's a problem," Tyson Chandler said. "He's tough to stay in front of, and we always give the guards a hard time. But it wasn't just one guard he was giving problems to; it was all the guards. Coach had the faith to throw him in there. He's been getting a little minutes here and there. I think he kind of caught on to the NBA style of play."
Lin started taking advantage of those small minutes on Jan. 24, during the Knicks' 111-78 blowout victory over the Bobcats. In about six minutes, he scored eight points and dished out four assists. He demonstrated that he's good at not forcing any plays; he lets the game come to him. From there, he got a bigger opportunity on Jan. 28 in Houston, where he didn't disappoint. He played 20 minutes, finishing with nine points and six assists. Three nights later, he had another strong outing in limited time: four points and four assists in just six minutes.
While he didn't see the court much in Boston on Friday night, Carmelo Anthony was already convinced that Lin needed to play more. In fact, during halftime last night, he and Chandler chatted and agreed that Lin needed more reps in the second half. And what happened? D'Antoni put him in with not even four minutes off of the third-quarter clock.
"I knew he could play," Melo said. "I think with the situation like that, it's all about having game experience. He played in the Boston game, which was a big game for him. He kept his confidence. A guy in a situation like that could've easily lost his confidence in that game last night. Tonight, he came out, he picked us up and he won the game for us."
Chandler was especially encouraged to see how Lin controlled the team's pick-and-roll defense, an overall area that jumped out for D'Antoni even before his offense. In fact, when Lin and Shumpert were on the court together, D'Antoni stuck Lin on Nets All-Star point guard Deron Williams. Usually the best opposing guard is Shumpert's defensive assignment. But D'Antoni, and Chandler, liked what they saw from Lin during the game.
"He plays hard out there defensively," Chandler said. "A couple of times I was going to come help and he's like, 'I'm all right.' To hear that, being a defender myself, I like to hear that."
Now, Lin's breakthrough performance -- one that most point guards would dream about having on a consistent basis -- begs the question: Should he get the start Monday night against the Jazz? D'Antoni hinted it's totally possible.
"We probably will, but we'll look," he said. "Give me tomorrow. Let me watch the Super Bowl and then we'll figure it out."
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