By Keith Peters
The spotlight couldn't have been any brighter on Palo Alto's Jeremy Lin on Friday night as his New York Knicks played host to the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant in Madison Square Garden. As the front page of the New York Post blared earlier in the day: May The Best Man Lin.
After leading New York to three straight victories, the obvious question was how would Lin stand up in the limelight before a national television (ESPN) audience.
Lin answered that with a career-high 38 points and seven assists to lead New York to a 92-85 victory. Lin's 89 points in his first three starts are the most by an NBA player since 1976-77.
"This is my dream," Lin said in a postgame TV interview. "I'm so thankful for that. This has been a wild week for me."
Only a week ago, the 23-year Palo Alto High graduate was fighting for his NBA life as the Knicks' fourth point guard. Given the chance to play when New York lost key players to injury and saw its offense sputter, Lin responded to the challenge.
In the four games since, Lin has averaged 28.5 points and 8.0 assists and become an instant celebrity in the city that never sleeps. Lin may have a hard time sleeping after Friday's electrifying performance that saw him out-dual the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, who finished with 34 points and 10 rebounds.
Lin was simply remarkable as he made 13 of 23 field goals and 10 of 13 free throws in addition to grabbing four rebounds while leading the Knicks on national TV. The 38 points was the most by a Knicks player this season.
"This guy is skilled," Knicks' center Tyson Chandler said of Lin.
Lin scored 18 points in 17 minutes in the first half as the Knicks grabbed a 49-41 lead. In the stands watching Lin included Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Ben Stiller and members of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
During the halftime TV show, NBA great and ESPN commentatorMagic Johnson said of Lin: "I like his game. He's got the Garden buzzing right now . . . they (the Knicks) like to play with him because he gets them the ball."
While Lin didn't dish like he did on Wednesday when he had a career-high 10 assists in a win over Washington, he took on a scoring role against the Lakers and excelled as he were an NBA veteran. After scoring five straight points in the third quarter, to give him 27, the fans began chanting, "MVP!, MVP!"
"I don't know what to tell you," Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni marveled. "I have never seen this. What he's doing is amazing."
At one commercial break, an announcer said: "Lets break away from the Jeremy Lin show for an NBA update."
Lin didn't start the fourth quarter, but the most surprising story in the NBA came back into the game with 9:25 left after the Knicks' lead had been trimmed to three. Iman Shumpert hit a jumper and blew by Bryant for a dunk before Lin knocked down a jumper to push the lead to 76-69 with about 8:00 left.
The lead was still eight before Lin nailed a long jumper, then was wide open after an offensive rebound for a 3-pointer from the wing, making it 84-71 as fans stood and screamed throughout the Lakers' timeout.
Lin followed his 28-point, eight-assist outing Monday in his first career start by scoring 23 points and handing out 10 assists Wednesday against Washington, becoming the first player since LeBron James in 2003 and just the sixth since 1970 to have at least 20 points and eight assists in his first two starts, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau provided by the Knicks.
Lin hit two free throws with 52.3 seconds to play to give the Knicks an 89-82 lead, giving him 38 points. He picked up an important charge on LA and former Stanford standout Landry Fields made two of four free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory.
"He's making everybody better," said Magic Johnson in an ESPN postgame show. "He's doing it with charisma and flair, and he's having fun . . . this may be the best the Knicks have played in two years."
Friday marked the deadline for teams to guarantee player contracts for the remainder of the season. The Knicks locked up Lin on Tuesday for a reported $788,000.
After Lin's performance on Friday, it seems like money well spent.
The front page of Saturday's edition of Newsday confirmed that as Lin made the cover with the headline: Kobe Who?
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