After Jeremy Lin's first game-winner as an NBA player, leading the Knicks to a 90-87 win over the Raptors, ESPN New York's Jared Zwerling and Mike Mazzeo couldn't resist chiming in on the most Lin-sane finish so far since the undrafted player's streak started last week.
Zwerling: What impressed you most about Lin tonight?
Mazzeo: His perseverance. At times, Lin was bad Tuesday night. Early on, it seemed like he was going to wind up with 20 turnovers. Calderon was abusing him offensively, and Lin missed those free throws late. But then, with the game on the line, as he has time and time again over his last five games, Lin wowed us -- again! On the Knicks' final possession, I'm wondering to myself, Where is Amare Stoudemire? How come he's not coming out to set a high pick-and-roll? Then the clock starts ticking down ... 10, 9, 8 ... and I'm wondering to myself, Why hasn't Lin started driving? ... 5, 4 ... and all of a sudden, he pulls up and I'm thinking, No way! No way! Are you kidding me? Lin-sanity! Interestingly enough, Lin was 4-for-4 from 20-plus feet against the Raptors, while he was 4-for-18 from 20-plus in his previous five games. Jared, I'll admit, when the Knicks were down 17, I was figured it was over. I figured Lin was coming back to earth. How did he turn it around and will the Knicks to victory?
Zwerling: I agree with you about his perseverance. Lin has a calm fight to him. Even though he's been turning the ball over (he had eight tonight), he doesn't let that bother him. He plays at a comfortable pace and never looks off-balance. And he seems to know exactly when to attack. He's got great timing. He had a couple of key takes down the stretch to get the Knicks back in the game -- one of which resulted in an and-one opportunity and others that led to assists. While Lin helped carry the team, you have to give a lot of credit to the Knicks' defense. Iman Shumpert switched with Lin on Jose Calderon and shut him down in the fourth quarter with his one-on-one, full-court ball swarming. The Knicks rotated well, closing out on shooters, and they didn't allow any easy baskets in the paint. After allowing only 11 fourth-quarter points against the Timberwolves Saturday night, the Knicks forced the Raptors to 12 in the final period, after they gave up 28 in the first quarter. Mike, how do you think Lin adjusted to playing with Stoudemire tonight in their first game together?
Mazzeo: Early on, it looked like a feeling-out process between the two. Lin was trying so hard to get Amare going offensively, but STAT looked rusty given that he missed four games last week due to his brother's tragic death. But as the game progressed, they began to mesh well with each other, and I think they're going to thrive together. Amare excelled at playing with elite pick-and-roll point guard Steve Nash in Phoenix, and he got off to a blazing start last season running the pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton. It may take a while for Amare-Lin to become as potent as Amare-Nash, but it certainly seems like a combination that has the makings of something special. Jared, the turning point of the game was Shumpert's steal and dunk that cut the Knicks' deficit to 87-84, which set the stage for Lin's heroics. How impressed were you with the rookie coming up with a clutch play like that?
Zwerling: Before I answer that, I just wanted to say that the biggest difference I've seen with Lin, compared to the other point guards Stoudemire has played with this season (Shumpert and Toney Douglas), is he's able to draw the defense in with his penetration and by maintaining his dribble even in the paint. Those factors enabled Stoudemire to free up more tonight on the block and get gimme looks at the rim -- just like he had in Phoenix. Now, about Shumpert. You've just got to love his tenacity. This guy wants the challenge of going up against the best offensive player on the court. Tonight, it was Calderon (25 points and nine assists) and the rookie contained him. Shump has so much swag on defense. He acts like he can guard anyone and he's relentless on the court. His size (6-5, 220) really helps and after the game, he mentioned that was a big reason why he was able to make it difficult for Calderon. Now that you've seen Lin and Stoudemire play together, how do you think Melo will fit in now? He's the final piece to this whole puzzle.
Mazzeo: That's the million-dollar question. Part of me feels like it's going to be an utter disaster. Can an isolation player like Melo fit in with guys who thrive in the pick-and-roll like Lin, Amare and Tyson Chandler. But the other part of me wonders if Melo can make Lin even better, if that's even possible. Think about it: Adding a top-tier small forward to a lineup that already includes an emerging point guard and a bona fide All-Star power forward is pretty scary. And then you've got solid role players in Chandler, Shumpert, Landry Fields and Steve Novak to add to that mix. That's an offense that's going to be very difficult to defend. Of course, it's on the defensive end where they'll probably struggle. Lin and Melo are both defensive liabilities, so it'll be up to Chandler and Shumpert to raise their levels on that end. Again, it's going to be a wait-and-see process with Lin and Melo. Nevertheless, it certainly will be interesting. Last question: Looking at the schedule, how long do you expect the Knicks' winning streak to continue, and more importantly, do you think this Lin-sanity will ever end?
Zwerling: I expect the Knicks to win their next two games, against the Kings and Hornets, two of the worst teams in the West. The Mavericks on Sunday will be a big test. They've won four straight and seven of their last 10 games. They're doing it defensively, holding teams to 91.6 points per game -- sixth-best in the league. But that could be the game Anthony returns from his strained right groin, which would give the Knicks an obvious mismatch -- and perhaps the key difference-maker in the game. Speaking of which, he'll be the main reason Lin-sanity will calm down a bit. Melo has been the Knicks' leading scorer (22.3 points per game) and he'll continue to be. Lin-sanity will have its moments, but it won't be an entire game extravaganza. But, as Lin said, if the Knicks keep winning, he's not worried about Lin-dividualism.
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