TORONTO — Even after his amazing week, this one took Linsanity to a whole new level. Against Toronto on Tuesday, it was Lin for the win!
Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than a second to play to cap his finishing flurry of six straight points and New York rallied to beat the Raptors 90-87, extending its winning streak to six games.
“I’m just glad it went like this so we can calm the Linsanity down,” cracked Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.
No chance of that. The NBA’s first American-Taiwanese player, Lin scored 27 points and added a career-high 11 assists in his first game since being named Eastern Conference player of the week.
“He continues to impress every night,” New York’s Jared Jeffries said. “Every game he plays better, he does more and more to help us win basketball games. You can’t ask any more of a kid coming into this situation.”
While he’s the one standing in the spotlight, Lin said sharing success with his teammates is as big a reward.
“It’s not because of me, it’s because we’re coming together as a team,” Lin said. “We started making these steps earlier but we were still losing close games and so obviously it wasn’t fun. But when you win, that solves a lot of problems. We’ve been winning and we’ve been playing together.”
Making just his fifth career start, Lin had no hesitation in taking the decisive shot.
“I’m thankful that the coach and my teammates trust me with the ball at the end of the game,” he said. “I like having it at the end of the game. I’m just very thankful.”
The season-high crowd of 20,092 roared as Lin shot over Jose Calderon and drained a pull-up jumper from the top with half a second to play, giving the Knicks their first lead since the opening quarter.
D’Antoni declined to call timeout before Lin’s winning shot, saying it would only give the Raptors time to draw up their defense. Even so, D’Antoni was impressed with the calm and confidence Lin showed in letting the clock run down.
“You just watch and you’re in awe,” D’Antoni said. “He held it until five tenths of a second left. He was pretty confident that was going in, no rebounds, no nothing. That ball was being buried.”
Toronto’s Rasual Butler airballed his attempt at the buzzer as the Knicks swarmed their newest hero at center court.
“The kid made a great shot,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “(Calderon) had to give him space or he was going to give up a driving path and (Lin) made a tough shot.”
But Casey was left steamed at his team’s failure to hold a lead, especially after the Raptors made nine turnovers in the final quarter.
“It should not have come to (Lin’s) play,” Casey said. “We had some many boneheaded plays to get to that play and to make that play relevant. We should have taken care of business before that.”
Amare Stoudemire returned from a four-game absence with 21 points and Tyson Chandler had 13 for New York.
Calderon scored 25 points, Linas Kleiza had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and DeMar DeRozan scored 14 for the Raptors.
Up 75-66 to start the fourth, Toronto widened its lead with a three-point play by Barbosa before the Knicks stormed back with a 10-0 run, cutting it to 78-76 and forcing the Raptors to call timeout with 6:22 remaining.
Kleiza stopped the run with a driving layup, Amir Johnson added a hook shot and, after Lin made one of two from the line, Barbosa’s layup made it 84-77 with 4:49 to go.
Toronto led 87-82 with less than two minutes to go when Iman Shumpert stole the ball from Calderon and drove in for an uncontested dunk. After a missed shot, Lin completed a three-point play, tying it at 87 with 1:05 left.
Barbosa missed a 3 for Toronto and, at the other end, Shumpert missed a jumper but Chandler grabbed the rebound. Lin took the ball near midcourt and let the clock run down to 5 seconds before driving and pulling up against Calderon to launch the decisive shot, touching off the latest instance of Linsanity.
“(Calderon) was trying to push me left,” Lin said. “He was giving me a little bit of space. I just tried to take it down as low as I could. I figured it’s probably not going to be possible to get to the basket with the help that they had.”
Calderon was surprised to see Lin pull up for the game-winner.
“I thought he was going to drive,” Calderon said. “That’s why I tried to give him his left hand but he made a great shot.”
Calderon was held scoreless in the final quarter, with D’Antoni crediting Shumpert for keeping the Toronto guard in check.
“He did a great job,” D’Antoni said. “Shump got on Calderon and changed up everything.”
The Raptors had a photo of Lin on their team website in the hours before the game, and his visit generated major interest among Toronto’s Asian community, estimated at over 280,000 people, or more than 11 percent of the local population. The Chinese Canadian Youth Athletics Association and the Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto both sent groups of almost 300 fans as Toronto sold out for the second time in 13 home games. One group of fans in the upper deck wore white T-shirts spelling out his name.
Not all the fans were so positive: Lin was booed several times throughout the game.
Local media also took note; some 75 reporters and 16 cameras packed a Tuesday morning press conference to hear Lin speak, with dozens more turned away to prevent overcrowding. More than 25 Chinese Canadian journalists were due to cover the game, including one who presented Lin with a book of “Year of the Dragon” stamps from Canada Post and asked him to record a message in Mandarin, which he did.
Even D’Antoni was shocked by the size of the throng upon walking in Tuesday morning for his turn at the microphone.
“Are we in the playoffs now?” D’Antoni joked as he made his way to the front of the room.
It was Calderon, coming off a career-high 30 points in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, who was hot early, scoring 12 points in the first as the Raptors led 28-21 after one. Lin missed his first shot and didn’t score until a driving layup with 3:46 left in the first. He had four points and four assists in the opening quarter.
Lin turned the ball over on three straight possessions early in the second and Toronto took advantage with a 6-0 run, widening its lead to 13 points. He also missed a running bank shot as the half ended as the Raptors took a 47-36 lead into the break.
Stoudemire scored seven points and Lin had six points and four assists as the Knicks scored 30 points in the third, but still trailed 75-66 heading into the fourth.