The center of the Linsanity and basketball universe saw the prodigal son return and Jeremy Lin and the Rockets faced the Knicks for the second and final time Monday night, routing New York 109-96 in a game that blew open after a 27-11 second quarter from the Rockets. Lin stepped back on the floor where his legendary fame began, calling it "a little bit of closure," and had 22 points and 8 assists in a bounce-back game for the point guard who has been struggling as of late.
The Rockets were coming off a loss on Sunday night to the woeful Toronto Raptors and playing an injury-depleted Knicks team who were missing star forwards Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Still, with that loss to the Raptors and playing on the second night of a back-to-back with travel in between (never mind the ups and downs of the team in general), it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Rockets fall. Truthfully, it's hard to know what to expect from this team night in night out, but Monday night, they were up to the challenge.
James Harden scored 28 to go with 10 rebounds, Carlos Delfino had 16 and Marcus Morris had 13. Second-year center Greg Smith continued his impressive play off the bench with 8 points and 8 rebounds in just over 18 minutes of work.
But this was Lin's night, a night the Knicks clearly wanted. His departure from New York was not pleasant, with accusations and criticisms that were unwarranted. The pressure put on Lin after his staggering run last year was magnified by the fact that he did it in the building that many consider the epicenter of professional basketball and certainly the biggest stage in the NBA. His leaving was a bitter pill to swallow for Knicks fans.
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For Lin, it is just another step in his development as a young NBA talent. It is highly unlikely he will ever be able to consistently match his stellar play over the course of 20-plus games last year, but he has the explosiveness and creativity to be better than he has been this year.
And anyone who thought he and Harden couldn't play together need only look at what they did last night as evidence to the contrary. This is what the Rockets had hoped for when they signed Lin and traded for Harden, a dynamic backcourt that would create all kinds of matchup problems for other teams.
Harden, for his part, has been spectacular. He is near the top of the league, but his all-around game makes him exceedingly valuable and a legitimate star player. Lin has been up and down, trying to find consistency with his shot and blend into a scheme that doesn't allow him as much room to freelance as he had in New York. But, for one night, they were both fantastic and the setting couldn't have been better.