Jeremy Lin's Unfair Heart Issue?

Jeremy Lin benches himself, raising questions of heart and Scottie Pippen migraine visions

Jeremy Lin benches himself, raising questions of heart as Rockets fold

Jeremy Lin Thunder
Jeremy Lin couldn't stay in the heat of the Rockets-Thunder battle when his team needed him most. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
Kevin McHale talked about how tough Jeremy Lin is just the day before the injury. Houston Rockets/Facebook
Russell Westbrook dunk
Russell Westbrook gives a new definition to toughness however.
Kevin Durant dunk
Kevin Durant is capable of taking over against any team.
Jeremy Lin Thunder
Kevin McHale, Jeremy Lin, Rockets, basketball, November 2012
Russell Westbrook dunk
Kevin Durant dunk

Jeremy Lin asked out of an NBA playoff game. That much is certain.

Lin appeared to be in pretty intense pain as motioned he couldn't go just before the second half in Oklahoma City, leaving his team to try and fight on without him. This is one of the more bizarre injuries in recent sports memory with the Houston Rockets point guard somehow suffering what's being called a chest muscle contusion between the end of the second quarter and the start of the third. Or at least noticing it then.

"I just talked to him in there," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said in his postgame press conference broadcast on NBA TV. "He thinks he got hit, but it feels like a pull."

Lin himself told the CSN cameras that he first noticed the the injury sitting in the locker room at halftime, describing it as something that almost came like muscle spasms, saying it made it difficult to even run out for the second half.

He'd pull himself off the floor before the half ever began. Right before the ball was inbounded in fact. Lin spent much of this season seeing his playing time get yo-yoed around in ways that other NBA starting point guards don't have to deal with. But he couldn't fight to stay in this playoff game.

 Jeremy Lin could very well have been completely incapable of playing. But it's still a little unsettling not to even see him try. 

It's strange. It's more than a little confounding. And it's the larger story from this 105-102 Game 2 loss that effectively ensures the Rockets season will end in this first round (Houston would have to topple the best team in the West four times in five games to advance now — not happening).

I've spent most of this season defending Lin and wondering when Kevin McHale and the rest of the Rockets coaching staff would start treating him with the respect his play and talent deserves. But it's hard not to be left with some questions about Jeremy Lin now.

Maybe it's completely unfair. Maybe it's unfortunate that Lin happened to willingly leave on a night when Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook refused to even step off the court for a moment after Patrick Beverley lunged and hit his knee on a controversial play, leaving the Thunder's symbol of ferocious heart hobbling.

But, truth is, we like our NBA playoff heroes to be warriors selling out every bit of their health to win.

I grew up on Isiah Thomas limping and gutting his way to an NBA Finals record 25 points in a quarter on an ankle so severely sprained that just watching him made you wince in pain. Others swear by the Michael Jordan flu game — or poison game if you listen to Jordan's wacky trainer's revised tale now.

Prior generations have Willis Reed limping out for Game 7 of the NBA Finals, of course.

Lin in Oklahoma City Wednesday night? Sorry, but that rings out more like Scottie Pippen's infamous Game 7 migraine game.

Jeremy Lin could very well have been completely incapable of playing. But it's still a little unsettling not to even see him try, to watch him pull himself before a single second half trip up court.

"This is easily the most frustrating thing that's happened all season," Lin told CSN.

Lin was playing pretty well in the first half. And then he was gone, waving himself off the court.

 You're naive if you don't think NBA players will wonder and whisper about Jeremy Lin now. 

It's something that figures to linger over Lin. Maybe even more so if is able to play in Game 3 Saturday night at the Toyota Center (he's officially questionable). There is something to be said for not hurting your team by trying to play through something that grounds your game and makes you ineffective. But you're naive if you don't think some other NBA players will be wondering and whispering about Jeremy Lin now.

That may not be fair. But if anyone should know that professional sports are not fair it's Lin, who has been cut, dismissed and discounted for many reasons that have little to do with the game throughout his basketball life.

McHale — a great player in the gritty, battling NBA of the 1980s who hardly throws around compliments willy-nilly — lauded Jeremy Lin for his toughness just the day before. Maybe that will carry some weight. Maybe that will remove some of the doubts.

Just don't count on it.

For there is Westbrook coming up big again after Beverley slams into him after he motions for a timeout — a sequence that TNT analyst Charles Barkley will call "a cheap play." "Russell Westbrook should knock the hell out of that kid," Barkley growls.

Instead, Westbrook just knocks the hell out of the Rockets with a 29-point game. He just steals the ball from Beverley on the very next play and turns it into two quick points for the Thunder. Westbrook's still never missed a game in his NBA career — after never missing a game at UCLA. He probably never missed a game in a YMCA youth league too.

NBA Heart

It's easy to see old school 1980s NBA guys like McHale getting a kick out of seeing Westbrook and Beverley — as limited as this Rocket is — go at it.

"It doesn't take much to fire up Patrick," McHale cracks into the cameras when asked if the timeout knee knock raised the intensity level even higher in the Thunder's self-dubbed Loud City.

What do you think the NBA's old guard players would be saying about Jeremy Lin if they sat around and talked privately amongst themselves after this one?

Are you sure he'd want to hear it?

It may not be fair. Maybe, Jeremy Lin just couldn't go no matter what. But it still sure would have been nice to see him try.