Mediocre. Overrated. Worse than Toney Douglas. Weak. These were some of the phrases thrown Jeremy Lin's direction by the New York media in the lead-up to his return to the Madison Square Garden. It was Lin's team, however, that worked over the Knicks, handing the Knicks their first home loss of the season, 109-96.
Carmelo Anthony sat out the game with a sprained ankle, but it's debatable whether he could have made any difference, as the Rockets were up by as many as 27 in the fourth quarter before garbage time.
A nice nugget from ESPN:
Knicks fall to 0-2 vs Rockets, are 18-4 vs rest of NBA— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 18, 2012
Let's dig deeper into the game in our three up, three down segment!
1) Linsanity Returns to Madison Square Garden
In a highly anticipated return to his old stomping grounds, Jeremy Lin delivered, notching 22 points and 8 assists while shooting well above 50% from the field. As we've noted at TDS a number of times, Lin has seriously struggled with his aggressiveness, but that was not a problem tonight.
Playing against Raymond Felton, his predecessor (sort of) and successor in New York, Lin attacked the paint with reckless abandon, and, more importantly, hit his shots inside. It may not have been fun for Lin to hear the boo birds, but it was Lin who had the last laugh.
2) Harden Dominates
One night after scoring 28 against the Raptors, James Harden scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, putting the Knicks away with back-to-back threes late in the third quarter. With the starting bigs struggling to pull in boards, Harden helped mitigate their struggles inside, hitting his career high.
Additionally, Harden and Lin looked much stronger together, with Lin seeming to hold more playmaking duties as Harden played off ball more. If that trend continues, the Rockets have a very good chance at making this Harden-Lin duo work.
3) Defense Responds
Obviously a team starting Jason Kidd, Chris Copeland, and Corey Brewer is going to struggle to score, but the Rockets locked the Knicks down, holding their field goal shooting down and forcing them into a season high 17 turnovers.
1) Chris Copeland, Superstar?
When you see Chris Copeland's name in the starting lineup, it doesn't inspire too much fear. And, after a first half in which he was held scoreless, it looked like Copeland would not be a major factor in this one.
Little did the Rockets know, Copeland had other ideas. In the early part of the third quarter, Copeland almost single-handedly brought the Knicks back, scoring nine in a row at one point. In the end, Copeland finished with an astonishing 29 points in the second half, playing unbelievably well against an admittedly uninspired Marcus Morris.
2) Asik Disappears Again
It has been a rough stretch for Omer Asik, with just one double-double in his last 8 games after averaging a double-double in the month of November. Tonight, that trend continued, as he scored 6 while picking up just 2 rebounds, sixteen fewer than his counterpart, Tyson Chandler.
His defense was solid as always, but Asik did not look like the player that torched Chandler and the Knicks for 18 and 14 last time the teams met up. Fortunately enough, Greg Smith and friends picked it up enough to keep Asik's night from hurting the Rockets too badly.
3) Former Rockets Disappoint
When I saw the Knicks on the schedule, I circled the date not only to see Lin return to the MSG but also to catch a glimpse of a pair of former Rockets stars, James White and Steve Novak. Needless to say, they disappointed.
James White played double digit minutes but did not treat us to a single #JamesWhiteSmash, and Steve Novak's flawless shot somehow did not fall every time he shot it. In the Rockets' interests, these were good developments, but any fan of basketball would tell you that any game could use more Steve Novak spot-ups.