There are no words to describe what Jeremy Lin did today against the San Antonio Spurs, but I will try my best to scramble some words together and see if any of it makes sense. I didn’t start watching this game until the middle of the second quarter, so I missed the part when the Hornets were down by 23 points early in the second quarter. I also missed the part when the Hornets only scored a season low 7 points in the entire first quarter (trailing the Spurs 28-7 at the end of the first quarter). By the way, the Hornets are the first team to score 7 points or fewer in the first quarter and still win since the Jazz did it in 2008 (so many records broken by Lin, today). And Lin/Hornets did this against probably the best defense in NBA history and the second best team in the NBA in the Spurs! Had I watched the entire game from start to finish, I would have been even more dumbfounded than I already am.
When I started watching the game the Hornets were down by 15 and Jeremy Lin was just getting started. The Hornets were left for dead before Jeremy Lin showed up (since Lin comes off the bench). Everyone had this game in the loss column for the Hornets, even before the game began. I mean, the Spurs are ridiculously good. There’s no way the Hornets have a chance against the Spurs, who just beat the Golden State Warriors, the best team in the NBA and probably in NBA history. Before they lost to the Spurs, the Warriors had an unbelievable 62-6 record. If it weren’t for the Warriors’s historic season, we would all be talking about how insanely good the Spurs are, who were 59-10, before they lost to the Hornets tonight.
Speaking of which, lets talk about tonight’s game. Coming back to win after being down 23 points is the second best comeback in franchise history. Just one point shy of the record, which was on October 29, 2014 when the Hornets came back from a 24 point deficit to defeat the Milwaukie Bucks. To come back against a team like the Bucks is one thing, but to do this against an elite team is pretty much unheard of! When elite teams lead by 23 points at any point in the game, it’s pretty much going to be a blow out and I’m sure the Hornets fans in the stands were expecting to leave early and beat the traffic tonight. In fact, the Spurs have never lost a game when leading by 20 points or more in the first quarter (prior to tonight’s game the spurs had a 72-game streak of never losing after leading by 15+ points). But then, Jeremy Lin came off the bench and played the way he knows how to play: aggressively and assertively.
What I’ve noticed about Lin over the years is that he is at his best when he knows he is needed. And he is nothing special when he feels like he’s not really needed to win games. Jeremy Lin is all about winning and if he feels like he’s not really needed to win, then his heart is not in it and every part of his game suffers. We’ve been witnessing this all month long. Of course, Lin’s also been struggling with a new shooting form and has been playing injured for a while now. So those are also reasons for his struggles, but I think a large part of it is that he feels he’s not really needed to win games.
The Hornets have been having a very easy schedule, playing mostly against sub-.500 teams in the month of March and they’ve been winning with Kemba leading the way. And I think this entire month, Lin hasn’t really felt that the team really needs him, so Lin has had his worst month in his NBA career ever since Linsanity. When Lin knows that the team needs him in order to win, Lin plays like the Jeremy Lin that all his fans know. Lin has done this time and time again throughout his career, which is why he puts up superstar stats and has a a 74% win rate when the “superstars” on his team are injured.
This season, when Kemba was out Lin started at PG and upset Lebron James and the Cavs, the best team in the East, breaking Lebron’s personal 21-game winning streak against the Hornets’s franchise. Until tonight, that was the Hornets’s best win of the season. A very recent example of Lin showing up when his team needs him is in the game against the Heat on March 17th. The Hornets could have easily locked in the win if Marvin Williams had just hit at least one of his two free throws down the stretch. Instead, Williams, who is a great free throw shooter and has been shooting the lights out this entire month, ended up missing both free throws, probably because he couldn’t stand the pressure. It was Lin, who had only one point in the game and has been struggling massively with his shot everywhere on the court, including at the free throw line in the month of March, who nailed 4 consecutive free throws at the end of the game to help the Hornets eek out a win against the Heat. I don’t think people realize how tough that is to do psychologically. Here Lin’s been having his worst shooting stretch of his career and all the pressure is on him to make free throws in an away game with the audience screaming at him and rooting for him to fail. I know I was nervous for Lin, because of how much he has been struggling with his shooting. But, when his team needs him the most, Lin conjures up the will to somehow win the game.
Jeremy Lin did that, again, tonight against impossible odds. The Hornets are down 23 against one of the best teams in NBA history (a team they haven’t won against since January 15, 2010) and everyone is thinking it’s just going to be another blow out. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Hornets will lose the game. Lin’s teammates are struggling massively, shooting just 15 percent from the field. This entire time, Lin is sitting on the bench. For the first time, perhaps in a long time, Lin feels like his team needs him, since everyone is struggling (Kemba, in particular, ended the game with only six points in 29.5 minutes). Lin comes in and, with Kemba out, attacks the teeth of the defense and asserting himself in the beginning of the second quarter. He single-handedly breathed life into the team and it all started with a 4-point play when the Hornets were down 30 to 7 at the start of the 2nd quarter.
Prior to Lin taking charge, the Hornets were settling for jumpers. Lin injected energy when he started driving to the basket and putting the Spurs’s defense on their heels. Suddenly it didn’t look like it was going to be a blow out. Hornets managed to cut the lead to 16 at the half. But the Hornets didn’t take the lead until about nine minutes left in the game when Jeremy Lin hit a three pointer to give the hornets a 75-74 lead. Lin was a perfect 4-4 from three-point territory tonight, even though he has been awful from three-point line in the month of March. He finished the game with 29 points (including 15 points in the 4th quarter) to lead all players (the second leading scorer of the game was Spurs’s Tony Parker with 19 points) on only 18 field goal attempts, which is astounding. He went 11 of 18 from the field and was 3-3 from the free throw line against probably the best defense in NBA history. I mean, prior to this Hornets game the Spurs limited Stephen Curry to only 14 points and Steph is the NBA’s leading scorer and the best player on the planet and could be the best of all-time. Lin also had 7 rebounds in a little over 31 minutes of playing time from the bench. A lot of Lin fans will remember that Lin tied his career high 38 points against the Spurs when he was with Houston and Harden was injured. So Lin has become a Spurs killer. I wonder if Popovich notices? I’m sure he does, since nothing gets past Popovich.
Clifford and Kemba nearly gave away the game, tonight, though. Even though Kemba couldn’t get anything going tonight and was having a very difficult time staying in front of Parker, Clifford, as usual, brought Kemba back to finish up the game. Had Clifford not coached like a robot, when it comes to managing Kemba’s and Batum’s playing time, he would have let Lee finish the game instead of Kemba. Lee was integral to the Hornets in the third quarter and clearly had it going on, but, as usual, Clifford lets Kemba finish the game no matter what. At least he kept Lin in to finish out the game. This, of course, is an obvious decision, but Clifford messed that up in Saturday’s game against Denver when Lin had it going on, but Cliff took Lin out in the 4th and the Hornets ended up losing a game they should have won against a Lowly Denver Nuggets team. I would say that I hope Clifford learns his lesson from tonight’s game, but we all know that’s not going to happen. Nothing is going to change for Jeremy Lin, despite his performance tonight. I mean, nothing changed after Lin single-handedly defeated Lebron James and the Cavs. In fact, after that game, Lin’s minutes and roles got severely reduced. But I digress.
Back to Kemba almost giving the game away. Kemba had two straight turnovers in clutch time, when every possession is so critical. When Leonard got a tip-in to put the Spurs ahead 88-87, it looked like Kemba may have given the game away. But with 48.4 seconds left Lin took matters into his own hands and hit a jumper to give the Hornets back the lead. Lin, then, grabbed a rebound (Lin has a tendency to grab rebounds when the game is on the line) and got fouled, which sent him to the line, since the Spurs were in the penalty. Lin, with ice in his veins, hit both free throws to give the Hornets a three-point lead that held up as the Spurs were unable to convert with seconds left in the fourth quarter. Those three throws by Lin were so nerve-racking, but Lin was poised and swished them both no problem, because he lives for the big moments.