It'd be easy for Jeremy Lin to lose confidence. It'd be easy for him to retreat into a shell. It'd be easy for him to start tuning out (a la Omer Asik) and just wait and hope against hope for a trade to deliver him a real opportunity.
He's been dismissed, dissed and marginalized during his second season in Houston, treated like a spare part by his own coach.
Yes, Jeremy Lin could have checked out a long time ago.
Instead when the Houston Rockets need him most, when James Harden is out, when Patrick Beverley wants no part of facing off against Tony Parker, when Chandler Parsons is colder than a winter storm warning, when Kevin McHale has no choice but to use Lin like a real starting NBA player for once, the marginalized man delivers. Jeremy Lin saves the Rockets in that come-from-behind 97-90 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
It's impossible to deny that. Just like there's no denying he plays like an elite level point guard when he's allowed 44 minutes of playing time.
One might think that Lin's performance against the Spurs will grant him more leeway in the future. Anyone who watches the Rockets knows better.
It's not just the 18 points and eight assists. It's not just the tough pull-up jumper — the kind of mid-range shot that Calvin Murphy's been begging the Rockets to seize for weeks — he fearlessly takes and hits with 48 seconds left to seal the win. The night is a lesson in what a high-level point guard can do for a team when he's given a real chance to make an impact.
The Rockets look as lost and inept on offense in the first part of the Spurs game as they did in those back-to-back putrid meltdowns againdt the Memphis Grizzlies.
The difference? This time Jeremy Lin gets enough playing time to find a rhythm and he drags the Rockets along with him. His third quarter turns the game around, ensures San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich will be grumpy in sideline interviews for weeks to come.
Jeremy Lin's Takeover
Lin hits a corner three to open the third and quickly adds two free throws, but it's his passing that changes everything. He puts up three assists in the quarter, but that barely begins to demonstrate his impact. He makes the rest of the Rockets better, exactly what a point guard is supposed to do.
"He really caught a rhythm in that third quarter and it was really good for our team," McHale says in his postgame news conference broadcast on CSN.
When Kevin McHale has no choice but to use Lin like a real starting NBA player for once, the marginalized man delivers.
Of course, Lin "caught" a rhythm because McHale actually played him long enough for it to happen — for once. The coach doesn't just play Lin the first eight minutes of the second half (time he'd be sitting in any other game), he also brings him right back in after a short rest so he can finish the third. Yet rather than acknowledging that this is the major difference in Lin's play — opportunity — McHale talks like he's divorced from having anything to do with it.
Earlier in the same news conference, McHale says Lin needs to play "aggressive." This from the coach who often takes him out at the first sign of a mistake.
It's almost like the Rockets coach is auditioning for a part in some new age version of Joseph Heller's Catch-22.
One might think that Lin's performance against the Spurs — and the follow-up in Dallas (18 points, seven assists, seven rebounds in 37 minutes) with Harden still sidelined — will grant him more leeway in the future. But anyone who's watched the Rockets knows better.
As soon as Harden is back — if not sooner — Jeremy Lin will found himself downgraded and dismissed again as the offense is run through lesser playmakers like Beverley and Parsons.
No modern day athlete outside of Tim Tebow has been this doubted. Only Jeremy Lin has the game tape to back him up that Tebow's never had. So what?
It will matter little that Lin saved the Rockets against the Spurs. It means zilch that he's shown he still has the potential to deliver Linsanity level numbers when given a real opportunity (Lin himself is the first to admit he misses several drives against San Antonio that he should hit — that's what happens when you've been kept out of rhythm). It doesn't even matter that the coaches clearly choose to put Lin rather than that fantasy land "defensive stopper" Patrick Beverley on Tony Parker in the big game (Beverley himself even motions for Lin to take Parker late in the fourth quarter).
Reality has a tenuous hold on these Houston Rockets.
It's even bled into the stands where the murmurs after a few great, attacking Lin drives that don't fall against San Antonio are loud and clear. Everyone knows you're supposed to doubt Jeremy Lin.
Lin will be banished to the bench for endless stretches again soon enough. No matter what he does. No matter how much the Rockets offense continually breaks down without a true point guard. (Houston's already scored under 90 points three times since Jan. 10 and that doesn't even include that 19-point second half game against Oklahoma City.)
No matter. Jeremy Lin will be made to wait for another real opportunity. He'll have his confidence tested, his resolve challenged, his patience probed. Maybe this time he'll break.
Just don't count on it.