Basketball
Back where it all began, Lin continues to embrace his new reality
BASKETBALL

Back where it all began, Lin continues to embrace his new reality

Eventually, Rockets guard Jeremy Lin will be able to return to New York as just another player, a guy in a road uniform who faces the usual disdain from the Madison Square Garden crowd.

He would like it that way, in fact - before playing against his old team, the Knicks, on Thursday, Lin said he would prefer to be a "subplot."

Lin might no longer be in the starring role he once filled in New York, but in Thursday's 109-106 Rockets victory, he was hardly a subplot. He came up huge for Houston in the fourth quarter when he was most needed. James Harden led the team with 36 points, and Chandler Parsons had 22, but it was Lin's 12 points in the final period that kept the Knicks at bay and pushed the Rockets to the win.

"I am just trying to play really free, I am trying to play really, really free," Lin said. "I am trying to be myself on the court and not worry about anything, any distractions. I am just trying to play as hard as I can."

Of course, when it happens here on this court, it is all the more reminiscent of Lin's glory days just a little more than one year ago. Lin captivated the sports world in the winter of 2012 with an out-of-nowhere run that propelled him to global prominence and onto the cover of Time magazine. He became the first player in more than 40 years to put up 20 points and seven assists in his first five starts. His run eventually stalled, and a knee injury ended his 2011-12 campaign, but many remained shocked that summer when the Rockets offered Lin a three-year, $25 million deal that the Knicks refused to match.

Lin still enjoys cult-hero status in these parts among those who fondly remember the Linsanity stretch. Lin has tried to put that behind him. When Lin entered Thursday's game, he was met with polite applause - hardly the raucous celebration his name once set off in this building.

"It was a lot more mellow than the first time [he returned] which was like, wow," Lin said. "This time was a lot more mellow. A lot of people were here to see James and Dwight [Howard]."
Lin wrapped up the game with a solid 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting. He is in a stretch in which he seems to have returned to form despite being in a new role.

He has been moved to a sixth-man spot behind point guard Patrick Beverley, and he has excelled. He scored 34 points (with 12 assists) in the loss to the Sixers on Wednesday, following up a 31-point effort against the Raptors. He was 20-for-36 from the field and 12-for-21 from the 3-point line in those two games. Overall, he is averaging 18.4 points.

That's a big improvement over last season, when Lin struggled to meet high post-Linsanity expectations with his new team, and didn't seem to mesh well at all with backcourt mate Harden. He seems more comfortable now, and the bench role - which allows him to play more with Harden off the floor - might be helping him further.


Lin was able to be a big contributor in New York despite going just 1-for-6 from the 3-point line, after making a career-high nine 3s on Wednesday. "He used them all last night," coach Kevin McHale said. "I told him, you don't want to throw them all in one basket at one time. No, really, he has played well, Jeremy has played well all year. I met with him in September, we worked out. He looked faster and in better shape. He has been tremendous all year long."

What's more, the up-and-down Rockets managed to close out a game on Thursday after blowing a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. They have hardly played their best basketball, but the Rockets are still a respectable 6-4.

That's where Lin's focus remains. "I think it is progress," he said. "We played more as a team today, we really moved the ball and shared the ball, played really unselfish. We did what we needed to do defensively."

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