Maybe the precious few who predicted something close to Jeremy Lin’s (林書豪) meteoric rise are the same few who could have predicted that the New York Knicks’ seven-game winning streak — a thrilling run that made the term “Linsanity” a global brand — would come crashing down on Friday night in an 89-85 loss to the New Orleans Hornets at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t think this is good, because I hate losing,” Lin said of the streak’s end. “But I know what you’re saying in terms of everything dying down a little bit. I think from that end, it may help me, it may help the team a little bit in terms of just having everything off the court cool down for a little bit.”
Along with their own listlessness on offense, the Knicks succumbed to Gustavo Ayon’s rebounding gusto, Greivis Vasquez’s sterling defense and game management and timely three-pointers by Trevor Ariza (25 points) as the Hornets improved to 7-23.
As the Knicks wait to insert Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith — signed on Friday following a stint playing in China — into their lineup, the spotlight was once again on Lin (26 points, five assists, nine turnovers — matching the most by any player in a game this season), who rebounded from a nightmarish first quarter and a poor first half to commit only one turnover in the second half.
“I just told him he was trying to make the hardest pass out there, he was trying to make the home run pass,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’ll happen for young guys.”
“I don’t think he expected to go without a defeat this year,” D’Antoni said of Lin’s first loss as a starter. “I think he’s fine.”
When Lin ripped the ball away from Vasquez and made two free throws to bring the Knicks within two points with 66 seconds remaining, it looked as if he simply could not lose. However, Ayon made a perfect off-the-ball cut on the ensuing possession and his layup sealed the outcome.
Amar’e Stoudemire finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks.
The players who have thrived around Lin offered little help on Friday. Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Bill Walker and Steve Novak shot a combined 7 for 31 from the field.
“We just didn’t make shots tonight,” said center Tyson Chandler, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Two nights after their whirlwind of early alley-oops and swift ball movement overwhelmed the Sacramento Kings, one of the Western Conference’s worst teams, the Knicks looked out of sorts against the West’s worst.
The Knicks and Lin — five first-quarter turnovers — started the game atrociously.
“Teams are now keying in on him [Lin],” Stoudemire said. “But it just takes time. It takes a few games like this in order to learn from your mistakes.”
The Knicks’ play was uninspired in the first quarter; they failed to box out on free throws, missed their own free throws (3 for 8) and hoisted up poor shots as the Hornets built a 27-13 advantage on the strength of 56 percent shooting.
New Orleans stifled Lin, who had a trying time with the feisty, 1.98m Vasquez. It was a quarter that called for the presence of players like Anthony and Smith, who can create their own offense.
Before the game, D’Antoni said he anticipated that Anthony, Smith, Baron Davis and Josh Harrellson would be rotation players. How this alters Lin’s magic carpet and those who have ridden it remains to be seen.