Jeremy Lin returned to the Brooklyn Nets’ lineup Monday night after missing six weeks with a strained left hamstring, and there were still times when it looked as if he hadn’t missed a step.
The Nets and Lin came up short in their shootout with James Harden and the Houston Rockets, 122-118, but Lin put on a dazzling display for all to witness.
With his former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, the man who led him through his groundbreaking era of “Linsanity” manning the other sideline, Lin bagged 10 points to go along with seven assists and three rebounds in just 20 minutes, and the Nets were a plus -17 with him on the floor.
It all served to remind everyone just why the Nets were so anxious to ink him to a three-year, $36 million deal in summer free agency. It also conjured up memories of Lin leading the Knicks on a magical 2012 run that saw him average 25 points and nine assists over a 10-game stretch that came to be known as the berth of “Linsanity.”
On Monday night, by the fourth quarter, Lin and the Nets had the Toyota Center crowd in stunned silence, erasing a 15-point deficit against one of the Western Conference’s premiere squads to briefly lead by three.
“It’s called Linsanity,” D’Antoni said after his Rockets had barely managed to escape. “It creates a special bond.”
Kenny Atkinson, Lin’s current coach with the Nets, was part of that New York mix as an assistant. He and Lin toiled together long and hard back then so that the Harvard grad would be fully prepared to take advantage of his one big shot.
It’s that kind of mentality and atmosphere he and Lin are now desperately trying to replicate in cross-borough Brooklyn.
Against Houston, even as they came up short, Lin tried to do what any good leader would by taking the responsibility for his team falling short even when it wasn’t really his to own.
“I felt like I’ve got to do a better job of getting a better shot,” he said of several late-game wasted opportunities. “But I think for me and our whole team, we played aggressive, we played confident, we played to win, and I’m OK with that.”
Lin’s dogged determination was enough to remind D’Antoni of why he remains one of his favorite and most respected players across the entire league.
“Lin has had to fight,” he said. “No one’s really taken him [to be] as good as he was. He was a great player in high school in California, and nobody wanted him. He was a great player at Harvard; nobody wanted him. He was a great player with the Knicks, and even then, they still struggled to believe.”
Surely but slowly, those perceptions are changing, and the Brooklyn Nets offer Lin his greatest opportunity to date to make his own imprint.
His former coach will among the many rooting for him.
“He’s had to battle for everything that he has,” D’Antoni added. “And it’s a great story. He’s fun to coach, a good guy. You root for people like that. That’ll be one of my favorite stories forever. Sixty years playing ball or doing whatever, and that’s one of the best.”
All Jeremy Lin was interested in was the last 48 minutes, and trying to master how the Nets can find a way to prevent games like Monday night from slipping out their grasp.
“I just struggled with the rhythm, the shots, the feel, making some reads, stuff that in a couple of games maybe it will all come back,” he said “You practice all these shots, but I got in there and it was like shooting a football. It will come back quick.”
[Featured Image by Michael Reaves/Getty Images]