Dear Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak,
Thanks for saving my job. Without you guys, I’d probably be at home waiting for my house phone to ring regarding an opportunity to be an assistant coach.
(My friend Aaron Cheris gave me this idea a few days ago. You can follow Aaron on Twitter at @aaronhowie)
In all seriousness, the New York Knickerbockers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight 100-98 at the Target Center. Mr. Linsanity himself, Jeremy Lin, had 20 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds while Kevin Love, Minnesota’s leading scorer, had 32 points and 21 rebounds. Let’s get to the details shall we?
For the fifth game in a row, Jeremy Lin was the primary difference maker for the Knicks. While he didn’t score 38 points like he did on Friday, only shot 8-for-24 tonight from the field, and didn’t perform that well during the second half, he drew a late shooting foul and nailed the game-winning free throw. Enough cannot be said about what Jeremy Lin has done the past five games. You’ve seen ESPN highlight him, you’ve seen Newsday and the New York Daily News write about him. He has been the story of the year so far in the NBA. And for the naysayers, think about this. There are plenty of undrafted NBA players who have had successful careers such as Jose Calderon, Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen, Avery Johnson, Udonis Haslem, Raja Bell, and Knicks legend John Starks. While it’s probably impossible for Jeremy Lin to continue this level of production, why can’t he average 12-15 points per game and 7-10 assists? That certainly doesn’t seem impossible to me, especially in a Mike D’Antoni system where the point guard is the heart and soul. Personally, I thought this was the more important game for him than Friday’s vs the Lakers. While the Lakers are a great team, this was the second of a back-to-back and one against a terrific point guard in Ricky Rubio. Rubio has been nothing short of astounding so far so to see a guy like Lin go toe-to-toe with him and come out as the victor is something to be very happy about if you’re a Knicks fan.
As for the rest of the team, there were a lot of solid performances. Landry Fields had 19 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. One thing I’ve noticed recently is that Landry’s free throw shooting needs to improve. Last year, he shot about 77% from the charity stripe while he has shot about 61% this year. That’s a significant decrease and something I would like to see him work on during practice. Besides that, nothing I can say but positive things about Landry since the January 18 game vs. the Phoenix Suns.
Tyson Chandler came up big again tonight as he had 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Tyson Chandler has been almost as pivotal to this team’s 5 game winning streak as Lin and Novak have and I personally think he was snubbed regarding the All Star Game reserves. While Nikola Pekovic (21 points and 13 rebounds) was a problem for him at times, Tyson did a fairly good job on the defensive end, like he normally has all season. Jared Jeffries continued his great season by scoring 8 points and grabbing 8 boards. He receives a lot of unfair flack, such as that playoff game vs. Boston (Garnett made a brilliant move and there was nothing Jeffries could have done. If you disagree, watch it again until you realize that.) but he’s been huge for this team all year. The box score may not show it but he’s made a few key offensive/defensive plays this year that have impacted many games.
And now it’s time to discuss two of the Knicks’ biggest players tonight: Iman Shumpert and Steve Novak. Iman Shumpert had 20 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists in 29 minutes of play off the bench. Tonight Iman was terrific as he made circus shots and hustled throughout the night. One play that I remember in particular is when he kept up with Rubio (I believe) and kept trying to steal the ball from him until he finally did and made the easy layup. For not even one second did Iman not try to take the ball away from Rubio and it paid off with an easy two points. That’s true hustle right there and Iman exhibited it all game until the very moment he fouled out.
Steve Novak, once again, was HUGE for the Knicks tonight. I’m not even going to lie, if you told me that Steve Novak was going to be huge in four games this year, I would have laughed right in your face. How wrong was I. I don’t even want to know where we would be without Novak considering he’s made huge shot after huge shot. Novak had 15 points and 6 rebounds tonight. However, his biggest moment was his three to tie the game with 36 seconds left to play. Novak has scored 15+ points in three of the last four games and has made 16 of 31 three pointers in the past four games. In other words, Novak has shot about 52% from behind the 3-point line. That’s remarkable and it could mean he will play a big part in this team’s future considering the Knicks have needed a strong 3-point shooter. He may have been the guy all along folks.
So where do we go from here? Well Amar’e Stoudemire is set to return for Tuesday’s game at Toronto. Carmelo Anthony‘s status, on the other hand, is fairly uncertain as he is still out for a groin injury. However, speaking of our superstar duo, there is one thing I must say. Amar’e and Carmelo need to adapt to Lin, rather than Lin adapt to them. Lin and the Knicks sans Carmelo and Amar’e have set the blueprint on how to win, and Carmelo and Amar’e need to follow it. It shouldn’t be a problem so much for Amar’e because Lin is a pick-and-roll PG in a pick-and-roll system and Amar’e is one of the best finishers of pick-and-rolls. I’m not too concerned about him considering he’ll benefit from Lin than anybody else on the team. My concern is with Carmelo. Now that we have an actual point guard in Lin, that should hopefully mean less ISO for Carmelo as it slows down the pace of the offense. If it doesn’t, well we have a big problem. New York City’s opinion can quickly change from good-to-bad and vice versa at the drop of a hat and if Carmelo continues to slow down the offense with ISO and take shot after shot, when we have a point guard, he will hear boos and criticism. I don’t think Carmelo wants to hear criticism so I expect him to be a team player once he returns but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Finally, I have just four quick subjects I would like to bring up:
1) Tonight was the third game in a row where Mike D’Antoni did not insert Toney Douglas into the game. The last time he stepped onto the court was on Monday vs. the Jazz (3 minutes). This is something interesting to keep monitoring because it could either mean that D’Antoni is letting Douglas recover from his shoulder surgery or it could be something else we do not know of.
2) Kevin Love had 32 points, 21 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and went 10-for-10 from the free throw line. This is one of those times where you just tip your hat because there’s nothing you could have done. Kevin Love is the best Power Forward in the NBA and should be starting in the All Star Game (Yes people, he’s better than Blake Griffin. Much better. Stop watching SportsCenter highlights and start watching Timberwolves games on League Pass)
3) Who’s Baron Davis?
4) I apologize to Mike D’Antoni. While I’m not a real fan of his system, the emergence of Lin shows how it was basically impossible for him to win games without an actual point guard. So with that, Coach D’Antoni, I’m sorry for criticizing you so much this season.