It started with James Harden sidelined, Chris Paul in town and Kevin McHale holding few other options. The Houston Rockets coach almost had to play Jeremy Lin heavy minutes. Lin — long discounted and downgraded — finally would be treated like a regular NBA starting point guard in Houston.
Just like how Mike D'Antoni treated Lin for the few magical weeks that changed the underdog's life last winter.
To his credit, McHale hasn't stopped since either. He's given Lin at least 29 minutes of playing time in six straight games. His reward? The Rockets have cruised into the playoffs for the first time in four years, going 5-1 over that stretch to lock the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz into their own two team death match.
It turns out Jeremy Lin is still pretty clutch — even far removed from Linsanity.
Lin's averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 assists over this playoff clinch stretch, numbers he probably could have averaged for the season if he was guaranteed the type of playing time Harden and Chandler Parsons are. Those are awfully close to the type of numbers that elite point guards put up, of course.
More than the stats, it's the Lin moments that have steadied the Rockets playoff ship, even as Harden and Parsons have gone in and out of the lineup with injuries, though. It's the cold-blooded, shot-clock-expiring 3-pointer he buried with two minutes left in Sacramento. It's the dead-on shooting in that road rout of Portland. It's the fearless drive to the rim off a scramble, the foul drawn and the two game-tying free throws against Phoenix Tuesday night.
The Rockets never get the chance to clinch on the brilliant Harden's "game-winning missed shot" — as CSN's postgame voices memorably kept referring to the freakish Jermaine O'Neal goaltending call — without Lin putting his head down and driving the possession before. No one called that moment for Lin. He made it himself.
On a night when he'd talk about having "a really off game" in the postgame.
Lin's NBA Reality
It turns out Jeremy Lin is still pretty clutch — even far removed from Linsanity. Maybe McHale's realized this. Maybe he's over his phase of leaning on the limited, but suddenly much celebrated Patrick Beverley over Lin late in the fourth quarter.
Six games is too small of a sample size to say for sure — especially with heavy minutes man Parsons having missed four of those games. But it's an encouraging sign as the playoffs approach. Harden is the superstar who changed everything for the Rockets this season, but they have no chance of putting any kind of first round scare into Oklahoma City, San Antonio or Denver without Lin playing a major role.
In a week in which the 60 Minutes profile that detailed the discrimination Lin felt in the college recruiting process came out, the NBA discrimination he's faced could finally be on its way to ending. And make no mistake, the tired belief that Lin really couldn't be as good as he played in New York has always come back to stereotypes about Asians and basketball.
In a week in which the discrimination Lin felt in the college recruiting process came out, the NBA discrimination he's faced could finally be on its way to ending.
David Stern allowed for that possibility on Lin's draft night. But it didn't stop there. People who harp about Lin's turnovers — while failing to recognize plays like that alley-oop in traffic to Greg Smith Wednesday night — don't tend to make the same criticisms about other point guards.
Someone might want to check out how the turnover numbers of the still-Houston-media-hyped, vastly-overrated point guard of a 23-55 Phoenix Suns team compare to Lin's. If you think the Rockets would be better off with Goran Dragic rather than Jeremy Lin in the long run, you're about as big a basketball deep thinker as Dick Vitale.
Lin's now shown what he can do when not chained to the bench for long stretches of the fourth quarter. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey still rightly lusts after a second superstar, but that quest will play out in the offseason. For these playoffs, there is no doubt that Lin needs to be the secondary focus.
The Rockets need both Harden and Lin attacking the rim to have a puncher's chance. They need them both moving the basketball, making sure guys like Parsons and Smith get open shots.
It started with that win over the Clippers sans Harden, with McHale marveling at how well the ball moved. It carried over into this playoff clinch run. Now the Rockets coach has to make sure he doesn't end it — and his team's season — prematurely.