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Jeremy Lin's Team Ball Lesson

Jeremy Lin teaches McHale a lesson in team ball: Idiotic Linsanity talk silly, it's about coach finding sanity

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Jeremy Lin Lillard
With the Houston Rockets on the brink of playoff elimination, Jeremy Lin played like the best player on the floor. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Omer Asik hands
With Jeremy Lin controlling the ball it's no coincidence that often forgotten players like Omer Asik became much more effective offensive options. Courtesy of Basketball 101
Jeremy Lin floor
Jeremy Lin knows how to pick himself up off the floor. Courtesy of Basketball IQ
News_012_Houston Children's Charity_Gathering of Champions_May 2012_Gary Kubiak_Tilman Fertitta_Wade Phillips_Kevin McHale.jpg
Kevin McHale is fighting not to join Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips on the list of ex-Houston coaches. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchLightGroup.com
LaMarcus Aldridge Rockets
LaMarcus Aldridge is finding harder and harder to score against the Rockets reborn Twin Towers. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin Lillard
Omer Asik hands
Jeremy Lin floor
News_012_Houston Children's Charity_Gathering of Champions_May 2012_Gary Kubiak_Tilman Fertitta_Wade Phillips_Kevin McHale.jpg
LaMarcus Aldridge Rockets
News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

In the end, Clutch — the Houston Rockets' mascot bear — is shooting off a confetti streamers gun, as if the Rockets have won a series or something, not just the first of the three straight elimination games they need. Three different Rocket players are being interviewed on the court — Dwight Howard by TNT, Jeremy Lin by CSN and Chandler Parsons for the in-house feed broadcast on the giant scoreboard.

And the guy who shows up at Toyota Center carrying that "See y'all Sunday" sign is feeling better about himself.

All because Jeremy Lin finally has the Rockets offense in his hands. With Kevin McHale essentially out of other options, Lin's allowed to play like a true point guard for one of the first times all season.

The result?

Predictably, the Rockets look like more of a team than they have all series and pull out a 108-98 Game 5 brush back of Portland. This is what it looks like when everyone's involved and James Harden's not just dominating the ball.

 It's not Linsanity. It's about his coach finally finding forced sanity. 

The forced and tired references to Linsanity returning whenever Lin receives the chance to play a major role are silly and clueless. That storyline completely ignores reality. This isn't about Jeremy Lin discovering his long-lost A Game.

It's not Linsanity. It's about his coach finally finding forced sanity.

Lin's always been capable of leading the Rockets this way. He's just usually denied the opportunity.

On this Wednesday night, the near supernova combination of McHale's beloved Patrick Beverley being completely zapped by a 101-degree fever and Harden looking so lost that not even McHale can ignore it, gives the Rockets coach little choice but to turn to Lin.

"He played better," McHale says of Lin in his postgame news conference. "Jeremy has had some very good games for us.

"We needed him."

If that sounds a little like damning with faint praise — particularly the "he played better" qualifier — so be it. Jeremy Lin is used to being underappreciated by his own coach.

The complementary players Lin gets more involved in the game certainly know what playing with a true point guard can do for one's game. It's no coincidence that Omer Asik plays his best game of the series by far (10 points, 15 rebounds) with Lin running the show.

Lin knows how to get an offensively limited big man engaged in a game. See Tyson Chandler. In fact, it's no big wonder that these Rockets almost look like the Knicks of Lin's heady New York run during stretches of Game 5. The ball's moving, everyone's hustling because they know there's always a chance they'll get a pass (something not true when it's all Harden Hero Ball) and the Trail Blazers don't know who to focus on defensively.

Jeremy Lin's Passing Ways

Lin's only credited with four assists, but they all come in the last 6:52 of the first quarter (yes, with Beverley gasping for air, Lin gets into the game at a juncture that must feel unfathomably early to McHale), setting an immediate tone. One of those assists is a drop off to Asik inside for an easy dunk after Lin drives deep into the lane. Another is a fast break pass to Chandler Parsons for a 3-pointer. The other two set up no-stress dunks for Asik and Howard.

With Jeremy Lin attacking, the Rockets are attacking — as a team. And they'll never stop, racking up a whopping 60 points in the paint and collecting 23 assists to the Blazers' 14.

For the first time in one of the most entertaining first round NBA playoff series you'll ever see, the Rockets don't face final minute angst. They're actually running out the clock rather than trying to set up a desperate last shot against the fifth seed.

 With Jeremy Lin attacking, the Rockets are attacking — as a team. And they'll never stop. 

This is what giving a true point guard control of the team — at least for important stretches — can do.

Jeremy Lin finishes with a playoff career-high 21 points on 9 for 15 shooting in 31 minutes of playing time. But more than his own numbers, it's about the balance he brings. Four Rockets score between 17 and 22 points. No player takes more than 22 shots and five Rockets get at least 12 shots.

In many ways, it's a clinic in the power of teamwork. One hopes McHale is taking note, but with Jeremy Lin delivering the lesson that's highly unlikely. Unfortunately, it's too easy to imagine the Rockets reverting to their Hero Ball ways under the immense pressure of Game 6 in Portland Friday night.

That game's likely to decide the series. Home teams don't lose Game 7s. But the Rockets, still down 3-2 in the series, still need to get to Sunday.

Jeremy Lin gets them to Friday. The Rockets game operations crew break out all the stops for this Game 5. But all those snazzy red Clutch City T-shirts and the timeout skit with the little kid dressed as Clark Kent popping out of a phone booth as Superman can't do what Lin can. Hit the shots that break the Blazers' back.

"It seemed like Jeremy Lin hit big shot after big shot," veteran Blazers guard Wesley Matthews says in his televised postgame dais time.

Lin hits two at the shot clock buzzer, including a double clutch 3-pointer in which he somehow maintains his shooting balance. He shows more emotion that he has all series too, turning back at half court and giving a flying near Tiger Woods-worthy fist pump to the crowd after one of his shots forces a Portland timeout. His game's finally unchained for at least a night. He's going to enjoy it.

"God is good," the religious Lin says in his on-the-court TV interview moments after a Game 6 is guaranteed. "It's been a rough couple of days. But God's given me a lot of peace."

After taking all that criticism for that Game 4 turnover — while others received a free pass for the same — Lin's given the Blazers a few uneasy nights of wait. He's given the Rockets a blueprint on how they can control and still win this series. 

Is anyone listening?

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