NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: (L) Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks reacts with teammate (R) Jared Jeffries #9 of the New York Knicks during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden on February 19, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
That, uh...that didn't go how I thought it would go. Coming off an ugly loss and playing on national television against an elite defensive team that had won six straight games, Jeremy Lin and the Knicks had every excuse to crumble and fall further below .500. Amazingly, though, they dominated the first and fourth quarters (just like fried_chicken said in the postgame thread), got huge contributions from the bench, and followed another valiant performance by Lin to come back from twelve down and upend the Mavericks.
Notes after the jump!
- In the first quarter, Lin took perfect care of the ball, penetrated for kick-outs and finishes, and hit his long jumpers. The team as a whole helped by splashing from outside and crashing the offensive glass for second opportunities. In the second, the Mavs all but erased a twelve-point Knick lead while Lin was on the bench, but kept pace to maintain a three-point lead at halftime. In the third, the Mavs locked down on defense and forced the Knicks to miss jumpers, going ahead by as much as 12 themselves thanks to Dirk Nowitzki's 13 (of 34) points. New York closed the quarter on a 7-0 run, though, then rode hot outside shooting from Lin and Steve Novak plus some big defensive plays down the stretch to the victory. Now, if you'd like to go player by player...
- Against the best defense he's faced, Jeremy Lin looked mostly unflappable. He would not flap. There were errors, of course-- he lost his dribble pretty frequently (7 turnovers, plus many more fumbles that got recovered) and over-helped a bit on defense-- but pretty much everything else was stellar (and again, the kid's losing the ball because he always has it and is always attacking and trying to make plays. We'll take it.). Lin did a much better job of handling a defense that was focused almost entirely on him. He looked much more prepared to beat traps with a simple pass or an evasive dribble and didn't let Shawn Marion's long-limbed irritation sap his aggression. He punished the Mavs off the dribble every time they overplayed him or bit on a fake and used that penetration to get inside and either help himself or zip the ball out to the perimeter. My favorite stretch was probably in the mid to late third quarter when he cut a swelling Dallas lead by weaving (somewhat wildly) into the paint for successive and-ones, then forced a backcourt turnover and dropped an uncontested dunk to cut it to three before the quarter-ending buzzer. In the fourth, Lin drained two threes-- including one massive, scrotum-scraping-the-floor pull-up over Nowitzki and made a couple slick defensive plays to force turnovers (five steals, so that over-helping paid off sometimes). Oh, and the guy recorded a career-high 14 assists despite having his pick-and-roll outlets steadily blocked throughout the afternoon. You make me very happy, Jeremy.
- As usual, a big performance from Lin was aided by the fact that guys hit open looks from outside. In the first quarter, it was J.R. Smith, who entered the game six minutes in and played more minutes than Landry Fields after there'd been uncertainty regarding whether he'd play at all. Smith hit three threes in the first to buoy that Knick lead. He was ice cold from outside the rest of the way (finishing 3-9 from downtown), but nailed a couple tough twos and cherry-picked for a big lay-in in the final minute. His defense-- often switched onto Nowitzki-- wasn't half bad as either. He did a lot of fronting off the ball, held his ground, and committed good, smart fouls (some of which could have gone uncalled) when Dirk made his move.
- In the fourth, it was Steve Novak's turn to cook soup from outside. He scored all of his 14 points in the first five minutes of the period, getting so ridiculous from outside that he felt compelled to bust out the Aaron Rodgers belt move whilst I bellowed "EH STEVE!" over and over again in my living room. Huge, huge contribution, and I thought he put in some good defensive possessions against Vince Carter as well.
- Landry Fields struggled in the third (arrhythmic shots, some defensive lapses) and ceded all of his minutes to Smith in the fourth, but he had a nice line (13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) in just 26 minutes and made a few fairly spectacular plays. One was a perfectly-timed snaggle of a telegraphed Jason Kidd pass and another was his far-side-of-the-rim-under-dunkaroo ("The Wilson Chandler Special") early on.
- Amar'e Stoudemire had a couple nice connections with Lin in the first half, but played a pretty awful game overall. His jumper-- which had been fine in the previous game-- just wouldn't fall and he found himself cornered helplessly under the rim a couple of times. That second thing is pretty scary considering that we were once accustomed seeing Amar'e finish absolutely everything at the rim. I'm not quite in the "holy shit, the dude's back is totally shot" camp, though, because he really did look springy and sharp in a few of the games he played before his familial tragedy and extended absence. Still, it's always disheartening to see a guy like Amar'e do anything other than spike the ball into Brandan Wright's mouth when he's right under the rim.
- Tyson Chandler, who evident knows the Mavs pretty well, guarded pretty much everybody. Dallas limited his touches on offense, but he more than made up for it on the other end by playing near-perfect defense through every single screen and switch. There were some possessions in which he guarded three or four different Mavericks and convinced each one that he'd better not try any shit or Tyson would murder him and gobble up his carcass even though he wasn't hungry. Chandler fell hard backwards on to his wrists on two occasions, and is getting x-rays on his left hand-ankle as I write this. If you have the ear of any deities, now would be a good time to pray to them. (Somewhat encouraging: Chandler kept playing and put in some great work in the fourth quarter despite being in visible pain. I'm convinced that the guy would play with a javelin through his gut, though, so I don't quite trust his grit.)
- Jared Jeffries, left wide open for most of the night, offered none of his improbable-yet-effective shooting or driving (it was improbable and ineffective), but played a big role in the second half comeback. Like Chandler, Jared was everywhere as a help defender (though more as a trapper than a switcher) and, like Chandler, he got his talons on some important rebounds on both ends of the floor.
- Iman Shumpert started at the three in Bill Walker's (and Carmelo Anthony's, lest you forget) absence and didn't give the Knicks much. He shot just 2-9 (that sort of shooting line is becoming kind of a thing for him) and missed some weird ones, including a second half runner that missed so hard off the glass that I'm convinced it was an exceedingly clever entry pass instead of a shot. To be fair, Shump may have been thrown off by two early fouls. D'Antoni got cute and stuck Shump on Nowitzki to start the first and third quarters and the experiment was an abject, unmitigated failure. Shump's tall and has long arms, but those arms don't like, telescope. There is some limit to how big a player he can justifiably defend.
- One of the fun parts about watching a new, talented player is that individual moves reappear enough that, over time, you come to realize that the guy has that move; he didn't just do it once or twice. For Lin, a righty drive followed by an even rightier floater from the side of his head has proven to be a go-to move, and it's almost impossible to defend because he releases it from such a weird pocket (sort of like his jump shot).
- More weird clock stuff in crunch time: A nice baseline floater by Amar'e (with a little push-off) ended up getting waved off because it left his hands tinyseconds before the shot clock buzzer. Later, the Mavs blew three chances to score on their final possession, the Knicks got the ball on a Lin steal, and everybody just kinda...stopped-- which was weird, because the clock stopped on the TV, but reportedly not in the building. Anyway, that one ended with Lin feeding Chandler wide open down the court for an easy dunk, so no complaints here.
- To my eye, the Knicks closed out on three-point shooters as well as they have all season. Then again, to my eye, Dominique Jones looks like a swollen Marlo Stanfield, so maybe get a second opinion.
- Lin got flagrant-fouled by Jason Terry (totally wasn't flagrant, but Lin sold it with a perfect penguin slide on his tummy) in the first half and Jeffries got in Terry's face afterward, which is exactly the kind of corny team-bonding shit I love to see on a Sunday afternoon.
And there you have it. The Knicks totally could have gotten away with losing that game, but Lin and friends rose to the occasion and iced what had been a very hot basketball team. Up next, they'll have to avoid a letdown tomorrow night against the Nets, but in the interim, I'm gonna have trouble wiping this grin off my face.