TORONTO - Just when you thought Linsanity had finally levelled off, the kid no one wanted found a way to take it to another level.
For all but a very few minutes of Tuesday’s game, the Knicks clearly were the second-best team on the court.
But when it came to winning time, Jeremy Lin, the story of the NBA season thus far, stepped up and put his team over the top in an unbelievable 90-87 win over the Raptors.
The story that couldn’t get crazier, just got a whole lot crazier.
Down three with just over a minute to go, Lin drove into the heart of the Raptors defence and got the bucket and the foul.
When he converted the free throw, the Knicks were back on even terms.
The Raptors, still in charge, didn’t stay that way for long. They went down the floor and gave the ball right back on a missed three-point attempt by Leandro Barbosa.
A miss by Iman Shumpert gave the Raptors momentary life until the miss was rebounded by Tyson Chandler giving the Knicks one more shot at it.
With the entire crowd on its feet and the ball in Lin’s hands, the Harvard grad who was sleeping on a teammates couch as recently as a week ago, calmly walked Jose Calderon down to the top of the key and then let fly with a three-pointer that found nothing but net.
The half second left on the clock didn’t allow the Raptors much of a chance at a game-tying shot even after the timeout leaving the Knicks celebrating for the sixth consecutive time.
As was the case in many of those celebrations, Lin was right in the middle of it all.
That love-in that Lin had been enjoying for his past five games as a key member of Mike D’Antoni’s New York Knicks rotation looked like it might go on hold following an unspectacular first half.
Nine points and six assists through a half is nothing to sneeze at but the Lin bar has been set so high it was almost like he was personally failing his Canadian debut.
The day started out with Lin getting the kind of attention few NBAers have ever been afforded, certainly none with just five strong games, four of them starts, under their belts.
A separate news conference all on his own prior to shootaround brought out the kind of media numbers that normally turn out for an NBA playoff game.
In truth it was all a bit too much for everyone involved including the humble Lin.
So when his first half ended with five turnovers, the thinking was the bloom might be off the Lin rose.
Turns out that thinking was premature.
Lin finished the night with a game-high 27 points and 11 assists. And yet another chapter in the feel good story in sports this year.
While Linsanity moves back to New York where the Knicks will take on Sacramento, the Raptors have to find a way to forget this one, but it’s not going to be easy.
As head coach Dwane Casey pointed out, that’s two games in a row his team has played well enough to win and fundamental breakdowns in the final quarter turned both into losses.
Tuesday night it was the team’s inability to take care of the ball and convert free throws in that fourth quarter that was their undoing.
Never mind Jeremy Lin’s unbelievable story, Casey has to get his team back on point.
“Once we learn and are committed to playing the game for 48 minutes, we are going to be a pretty good baseball team,” he said.
But Casey also knew there were only three quarters he got out of his team last night.
MAKE UP YOUR MINDS
It was an odd crowd taking in Lin’s first visit to the Air Canada Centre.
They began the night cheering him. By the second quarter he was being booed and by the third and fourth every time he did anything that warranted attention he received a mix of cheers and boos.
The guy has started five games in his NBA career and he was getting the kind of treatment normally reserved for the likes of a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
On the one hand, it’s nice to see a story like his get the kind of recognition it deserves but to give him the kind of treatment the very best in the game get, both good and bad, is extremely premature.
Credit the crowd though for knowing a good story when they’re seeing one. By game’s end, Lin was being showered with only cheers.
Casey wasn’t going to make it back to Dallas to get his championship ring.
Enter Tyson Chandler, the focal point of Casey’s defence in Dallas for that championship season and a guy who just happened to be in town with the Knicks.
In a classy gesture by both the Raptors who set it up and Chandler for agreeing to do it, Casey, much to his surprise, was able to take part in a ring presentation pre-game.
A video presentation with a host of other members of that championship team thanking Casey for his efforts and congratulating him was played on the video board before Chandler was brought out to give him his ring.