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Of Jeremy Lin and The Return of 'The Look'

December 11, 2012 12:06 am EST

HOUSTON - Chandler Parsons called it, “the look.” Equal parts ferocious and fierce, it is the expression that dominates Jeremy Lin’s face when he ascends to that place where every shot feels as if it will fall and bad puns are born at an exponential rate. For perhaps the first time this season, Parsons saw his good friend and teammate don the guise that transformed him into an international phenomenon on the Broadway stage this past February prior to the completion of the circuitous journey that brought him back to Houston.

Jeremy Lin had the look. He put on a mesmerizing show. He was, in a word, spectacular.

And ultimately it wasn’t enough.

To be sure, there are no moral victories here – that much was evident by strolling through the Rockets’ postgame locker room following their 134-126 overtime defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in what was a wild, wacky, magnificent, memorable, exceedingly fun yet ultimately frustrating game for Houston. Down the stretch San Antonio flexed its well-toned and defined offensive muscle, rallying back from a nine-point fourth quarter deficit while the Rockets hung tough until the hallmarks of their youth – namely, miscommunication and other assorted defensive breakdowns – proved just too much to overcome.

Omer Asik was tremendous, netting a career-high 21 points. Toney Douglas and Marcus Morris provided a huge spark off the bench. Chandler Parsons came alive in the fourth quarter, draining three of his four 3-pointers as part of a team effort that saw the club set the Rockets’ Toyota Center record for 3s made in a game (Houston went 16-30 from beyond the arc).

But in so many ways, both short-term and big picture, this game was about Jeremy Lin and the return of “the look.”

With James Harden sidelined due to an ankle injury, Monday’s game offered Lin a chance to seize the reins and steer the Rockets’ offense the way he does best: with the ball in his hands, aggressively attacking, probing and putting pressure on the opposition. He started slowly, scoring just two points in the first quarter and offering few hints of the explosion that was yet to come.

And then the fun began.

Lin knocked down a pair of 3s in the second period, establishing some much-needed confidence for himself while planting just enough healthy fear into the minds of the Spurs, ensuring that they would have to regard him as a perimeter threat on a night when seemingly every Rockets player deserved to be labeled as such.

Two more triples then followed in the third and suddenly the court became a canvas on which Lin might as well have painted, “I’m back,” in broad, bold strokes. Everything he did appeared to be both blazingly fast and super slow-mo: left-handed layups in transition, buzzer-beating 3s, forays to the rim for buckets, dimes and trips to the free throw line – you name it. All the high-value things Lin became known for in New York resurfaced in that masterful third quarter and continued for some time into the fourth.

Unfortunately for both Lin and the Rockets, the vast majority of the late-game magic belonged to Tony Parker, who recorded his first career triple-double, and the offensive master class that is the San Antonio Spurs’ symphonic offense. This loss will undoubtedly sting for a while, coming as it does on the heels of a similarly disappointing defeat to Dallas just two days earlier. But by the time tomorrow’s practice rolls around, that heartbreak will have faded. The impact of Lin’s performance, and what it means for this team going forward, however, will likely resonate for some time.

From the moment they signed Lin, the Rockets have repeatedly said they don’t need, nor do they expect Jeremy to be the superstar version of himself that fans around the world fell in love with back in February. That much won’t change with this performance. What likely will, however, is the way Houston employs both Lin and Harden when they are sharing the same court once again.

It’s no secret that at this stage in their respective careers, both are better with the ball in their hands. Harden is one of the game’s preeminent pick-and-roll practitioners and, as Lin showed Monday night and for six weeks last season, he’s plenty capable of wreaking havoc with the rock himself. Up to this point, however, the two players have struggled when paired together: the Harden/Lin combo is -34 for the season to date while logging more minutes than any other Houston duo this season.

After the game, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale mentioned his desire to find more ways to help the two players mesh better when sharing the floor. He discussed putting them in positions where each can attack the basket with their dominant hand (Lin is right-handed; Harden is left). But more than anything, McHale expressed his confidence and belief that everything would come together in time, no differently than he did when (correctly) predicting that Lin would be just fine after logging just 18 minutes of action against Dallas Saturday night.

Make no mistake, this transition will take time and there will be plenty more bumps in the road. As Lin himself said after the game – and as many a Rockets staffer is fond of repeating – “it’s a process.” It’s been pointed out in this space before, but it bears repeating: it took two historically great, ball-dominant players in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade more than 18 months to find their ideal on-court synergy. Why on earth, then, should anyone expect Lin, Harden and the rest of the young Rockets to figure out the answer to every riddle facing them in less than two?

Perhaps the short-term answer lies in letting Lin initiate more of the offense while Harden, who’s the better of the two playing off the ball at this point, slides over to the wing, taking advantage of spot-up and secondary pick-and-roll opportunities. Or maybe there’s value in staggering the playing time of Harden and Lin in such a way that it allows each ample time to have the ball in their hands with shooters spacing the floor surrounding them.

Whatever route the Rockets choose, they have every reason to believe in the pairing’s ultimate success. Both players are talented, smart and, perhaps most importantly, extremely unselfish. They want each other to succeed and, far more than that, they want to see this team flourish.

Which is why, on a night when Lin commanded the spotlight once again, he wasted little time reminding everyone of that which matters most to him on the basketball court. 

“I am thankful that I was able to kind of get comfortable out there, but that's definitely secondary to the fact that we blew another close game,” he said after tying his career-high for scoring with 38 points.

“It’s a process and we all understand that. It’s not just me; it’s just getting everybody involved and everybody comfortable so that when we get out there we have that same type of familiarity that San Antonio has where everybody is getting going and everyone is comfortable. I think it’s just a matter of time.”

Indeed, Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was San Antonio’s otherworldly offense. Such massive, grandiose projects require time and lots of it. And as the youngest team in the NBA, time is a tariff the Rockets will gladly pay so long as their fledgling talent continues to take steps forward as they have for the better part of this season.

Monday night was Lin’s turn beneath the microscope and the view offered a vivid reminder of why the Rockets remain so bullish about his future. Chandler Parsons saw it and so did everyone else in attendance and watching around the world. When Jeremy Lin gets that look, he can put on a show. Now the key becomes finding a way to make sure there are many more encore performances in the days, months and years to come.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(On Jeremy Lin) “Yeah, I mean he played well. He did a really nice job out there. I liked him at the end of the game. I wanted him to center the ball a little more and use the pick. He kind of waved off big O and was going to go one-four flat and we didn't get a shot. I was kind of hoping Jeremy was going to use the pick. I was going to call him up and he waved him off… But hey, he played fantastic and had a great game.”

(On the Spurs) “Those guys, those closers has been in a million of those games. The Spurs has been together a long time. “

(On the team) “We had a bunch of young guys out there. We had Gregg Smith at the end of the game. Big O (Omer Asik) was tighter. We had Jeremy. We had a bit of young guys out there that were playing. I though that Marcus gave us good minutes. Morris played well, Big O had a heck of a game and to be truthful, I think we got a little bit tighter. I tried to substitute earlier different tonight, I think it helped us a little bit. We had that last possession where I would like to have that over again, but other than that I think the guys fought hard.”

(can this game be instructive?)

Yeah, it can. I liked our grit and the way we came out and held them to a 23-point first quarter. We just get some lineups out there where we’re really, really young and we get cross-matched and they do some action and all of a sudden we have two on one. They cut and move a lot and while they’re doing that our guys get caught with their heads turned. We have a lot of little things that we have to get better at.

All in all, our effort wasn’t bad. The last game we scored 109 and couldn’t win and tonight we scored 126 and couldn’t win. At a certain point, we have to be better defensively, there’s no question about it. That’s a good team and Parker had a helluva game.

(how can this translate in terms of the chemistry between James and Jeremy when they’re sharing the court?)

We’ve got to find ways of making sure we get (both guys involved). I’ve been gone a long time but there are things that we’ve got to do where … Jeremy can get to his right hand on the left side and James can get to his left hand on the right side, so you can do a lot on both sides where both guys get to play to their strong hand when they’re driving. We’ve got to get better at some areas and put in some stuff that will allow both guys to play better. They’re going to be fine.

CHANDLER PARSONS

It’s frustrating because it’s the second game in a row where we’ve had a big lead in the fourth quarter and let it get away. We hung in there, we never quit. We’re a resilient team so when they go on runs we’re not going to give up but it’s just so frustrating losing games that we have in our control.

(problems on D due to Spurs’ offensive excellence?)

I don’t think that’s an excuse really. We have so many mental breakdowns on defense, just communication problems, just little things. I guess it’s promising because it’s all stuff that we can control; it’s not foot speed or strength or anything like that – it’s all stuff that’s just mental.

(chalk up defensive issues to youth and inexperience?)

Yeah, but we’re competitive and no one likes to lose. No one likes to go through patches like this, especially when we feel like we blow a win. That’s on us. Of course it’s a process and we’ve got a team that’s young and only been together a short amount of time. It takes time. But at the same time, we’re human, it hurts.

(encouraging to see Jeremy have a game like this?)

It was great. That was fun to watch. He had the look in his eye that I saw last year where nobody was stopping, he wasn’t missing, just give him the ball. Hopefully that gives him the momentum and confidence to keep going.

(how to keep the mojo going when Jeremy and James are sharing the floor together?)

It’s just playing basketball. Neither of those guys are selfish. They all like to see all of us succeed. I don’t think anybody in our team or in this locker room comes here to the game and says, ‘I want to get 20, ‘or ‘I want to get 30,’ or ‘I want to be the leading scorer tonight.’ We honestly don’t care. We want to win whether it’s me, James, Jeremy or (Asik) leading our team in scoring. Any given night it can be someone different.

JEREMY LIN

(On what went wrong tonight) “We went through lapses. We've done that a decent amount, defensive lapses and on rotations we left Tony Parker wide open and we didn't get  a couple of rebounds and offensively we didn't get quality shots every time.”

(On the loss) “It's tough obviously. I am thankful that I was able to kind of get comfortable out there, but that's definitely secondary to the fact that we blew another close game. I had the ball to win it and didn't get a shot up and so this one definitely hurts.”

(have you been feeling more like yourself?)

I think, for me, I play the best just like anybody – when you’re comfortable. I think getting extra shots up and things like that, things are starting to feel more comfortable for me. Mentally, it’s trying to be aggressive, but control it at the same time. I’ve learned a lot through a lot of my struggles throughout the season. Through it all I’ve been able to see what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.

(how big was it to hit some outside shots early?)

That’s really important for me. A lot of times when I hit one, I hit a few more. It’s nice to see some go in early.

I’m just playing. I’m not necessarily thinking anything specifically, I’m just trying to play. I may be more aggressive subconsciously.

(how to keep this play going when James comes back?)

That’s just something we’ve got to keep working at. It’s a process and we all understand that. It’s not just me; it’s just getting everybody involved and everybody comfortable so that when we get out there we have that same type of familiarity that San Antonio has where everybody is getting going and everyone is comfortable. I think it’s just a matter of time. We’re all working at it.

MARCUS MORRIS

(On knee injury) “It's fine. It's just a little sore. I'll be practicing tomorrow. I'm cool.”

(Difference between Friday's game and tonight's game) “I think we are definitely aggressive in defending the ball. They have a great team hands down, so any mistakes that you make, they make you pay for them. They made shots, they made shots. We had them and had a chance to win it, but we didn't.”

TONEY DOGULAS

(On the Rocket struggles) “We were up 10 or nine (points) and we didn't sustain our lead. They (Spurs) are a veteran team. We have to play all 48 minutes. I can't really say a lot now; I have to watch the film. We will look at it in practice.”

SAN ANTONIO SPURS COACH GREGG POPPOVICH

(On the game) “For most of the night, I was mostly impressed with their game. I thought Houston (Rockets) did a great job without (James) Harden, executed; they busted their butt all night. Down the stretch we made some shots. Gary Neal got into it. Tony Parker all night long kept us in the game with his floor play at both ends of the court he was magnificent. But down the stretch Neal made some shots for us so we were fortunate in that regard.

(On overtime) “We had a pretty experienced team out on the floor that did a good job but I thought Houston was sharper than we were most of the night.”

(On the selection of open jumpers) “Well that’s a little bit of everything. He knows what he’s supposed to do. His main strength is shooting the basketball and he moves well without it and our guys know where he’s at and they’re going to look for him.”

(On Jeremy Lin) “Well you know he combined his shooting with his driving. If you’re just driving the ball all the time it’s tough and people can load up on you. But if you’re knocking down shots like that people gotta come on you and it opens up your drive. He played a great game.”

GARY NEAL

(On the game) “It was a crazy game. It went in overtime, they came out aggressively, made a lot of shots. I mean they shot the ball terrifically from 3 point and we were able to hang in there and keep it close and we were finally able to string some shots together to kind of send it into overtime so you know it was an up and down game but we came out on top.”

(On being effective throughout the game) “I just think it’s our motto. Our motto is “Good to great”. We practice that throughout training camp. All the guys who’ve been here for a couple of years know the motto “Good to great”. If you know the motto if you have a good shot then have a great shot. So throughout the NBA season, and 82-game season if you can take uncontested shots that’ll give you a great chance to shoot a high percentage and win games.”

MANU GINOBILI

(On Gary Neal and Tony Parker) “We had two guys performing impressively. Gary (Neal) and Tony (Parker). Tony with a triple-double and playing good. Gary hitting big, big shots when It counted. We were down and he put us back in the game a couple time.  He makes things easier when you have players performing like that.”

(On the situation) “We don’t mind getting easy wins. In this situation, I had a 17-year career and I’ve probably seen this situation a hundred times or more. A team is lacking one or two of the best players and the other team gets on a roll and gets confident with no pressure.”

NOTES

Houston was defeated 134-126 by San Antonio in overtime tonight. Dating back to last season, the Rockets have now dropped their last five OT games.

The Rockets went 16-of-30 (.533) from beyond the arc tonight, setting Houston’s new Toyota Center record for most 3-pointers made. Overall, the 16 makes from downtown tied for the third most in a game for the Rockets. The Spurs also went 14-of-30 from 3-point range tonight.

San Antonio shot 48-of-92 (.522) from the floor, hit 24-of-26 (.923) free throws, dished out 31 assists and outscored the Rockets by a 56-38 count in the paint tonight. The Spurs also went 48-of-87 (.552) from the field, made 12-of-13 (.923) from the line, handed out an opponent season-high 33 assists and took a 60-38 edge in the paint in the last meeting at San Antonio (12/7/12).

Jeremy Lin tied his career high of 38 points (11-21 FG, 12-12 FT) and hit a career-best four treys (4-5 3FG) tonight, marking his second 20-plus point performance of the season. Lin also tallied 21 points (6-16 FG, 7-8 FT), a career-high 10 rebounds and seven assists at Atlanta (11/2/12). He originally set his career high in points with 38 vs. the L.A. Lakers (2/10/12).

Omer Asik also finished with a career-high 21 points (5-11 FG) and 10 rebounds tonight, which included matching his career-best night from the line at 11-of-14. Asik posted his previous career high of 19 points (4-8 FG) off a career-high 11-of-14 night from the free throw line vs. Miami (11/12/12), adding 14 rebounds and a career-high-tying three assists in that game.

Chandler Parsons picked up 20 points (7-18 FG, 4-8 3FG) and seven boards tonight, which marked his fourth 20-point performance of the season.

The last time the Rockets had 3 20-point scorers in a game was 1/13/12 vs. Sacramento: Kyle Lowry (25), Samuel Dalembert (21) and Luis Scola (21).

Toney Douglas recorded another 17 points (6-11 FG, 5-7 3FG) and four assists off the bench tonight. Douglas has now reached double-figure scoring in a season-high four consecutive games (12/4/12-12/10/12).

Carlos Delfino made his first start with the Rockets tonight, replacing an injured James Harden (sprained right ankle).

Tony Parker registered the first triple-double of his career with 27 points (9-18 FG, 8-9 FT), 12 rebounds and 12 assists tonight. Parker also had 24 points (10-23 FG) and 13 assists last season at Houston (1/21/12).

Gary Neal led the Spurs in scoring with a career-high 29 points (11-18 FG) tonight, which included a career-best 7-of-10 outing from beyond the arc. Entering this game, Neal was averaging 12.8 points and 4.1 rebounds as a starter.

Manu Ginobili finished with 22 points (7-12 FG, 5-6 FT), six assists and five boards tonight. Ginobili has now posted 15-plus points, 5-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists off the bench 23 times in his career.

Tim Duncan added a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double, giving him 38 career point-rebound double-doubles against the Rockets.