First he looks like a scrub who’s run out of whatever magic dust was propelling him to unimaginable heights. A small, skinny dude who looks like he came in from the crowd to shoot a couple free throws for a thousand bucks and somehow inserted himself into a real NBA game.
Then you fast forward an hour later and this kid, who nobody had even heard of a couple of weeks ago, waves off his team to clear the floor for him on the final possession in regulation. A team that includes Amare Stoudemire. And he hits the game winner like he’s been doing this for years.
Lincredible. (Had to do it.)
The Raptors started off well for a change. They clearly game planned to contain the Knicks point guard, and it worked well in the first half. Lin was trying to force the play on pick-and-rolls and make the pass. The Raptor defense anticipated this and it resulted in some turnovers. To be honest, Lin really never did get too comfortable this game. A lot of his points were off being fouled on the perimeter and on odd-man fast breaks.
Jose Calderon was actually killing this match up in the first half. Clearly the 30 point game against the Lakers has given him confidence in creating his own offense, and he was taking shots when given even a little bit of daylight. It’s great to see this, but sad that we’ve possibly had a very good scorer right under our nose all these years, who chose to hold back simply because he saw himself as a traditional pass-first guard. Whatever the case may be, he could not have done any better to improve his stock in the last two games against teams in major media markets. If trading him is part of the plan, you trade him very, very soon. It would be a sad day to see one of the more unappreciated players on this team go, but he’ll probably be in the downswing of his career by the time this team tries to contend in a few years.
What people will probably overlook on this night is all the offensive boards the Knicks racked up near the end of the game. Whenever Aaron Gray’s been on the floor, he’s done a decent job cleaning up the glass. But inexplicably he plays 12 minutes. Not because of foul trouble. Not really sure why. Linas Kleiza had his best game in a string of fairly impressive games for him, and he was rebounding well but you need a big banger in there to secure valuable possessions in crunch time.
Once Mike D’Antoni decided to cover Calderon with the uber-athletic Iman Shumpert, the writing was on the wall. Not only that, but they decided to play him aggressively on picks. What resulted was Calderon deferring to DeMar DeRozan at times, and the results weren’t pretty. DeRozan’s play in fourth quarters is costing this team games. While this is palatable right now, it’s not what you want from your shooting guard of the future. It’s his third year and he still lacks true playmaking skills.
Once he starts that drive, he’s looking to score. You don’t always have to score once you drive. Try making a basketball play sometimes. That could be a kickout for a three pointer. Or a handoff inside. Or if you see a bunch of trees waiting to take a charge or swat your junk, just dribble away. You have more turnovers (2.1) than assists (1.8) right now and you’re shooting under 39%. The people who say James Johnson has a higher ceiling are right on. He does, and in this game foul trouble limited his minutes, but when he was on he was impacting the game in more ways than one. Unfortunately DeMar is not excelling at the one skill he possesses and that’s troubling. Don’t get me wrong, by all accounts a great kid. Great work ethic. We’re all rooting for him to take that next step. What’s worrying is if he has the natural talent to do it, or if he’s an athlete without that basketball sense that separates the Kobe Bryants of this world from the Gerald Greens.
It’s almost like he’s the antithesis of what Jeremy Lin is right now.
Once the sting of this loss fades, we will take our Raptor hats off and remain just as pure fans of the game, fans of the best basketball league in the world. Then we can revel in this story, of the ultimate underdog that many of us can identify with and the themes of hope and perseverance that ring so loud and true. Maybe none of us should have had any doubt that the geek from Harvard, shooting a paltry 17% from beyond the arc, would pull up and take that shot. Like the next chapter in this fairytale somehow has to outdo the last.