TORONTO – Everyone stood together in the Air Canada Centre, watching the New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin dribble out the clock. Twenty seconds, and the coach didn't dare call a timeout to design a fancy play on his board. The kid's the play now. As the biggest story in sports bounced the ball, he swiveled his head to ask: Hey, can I run an isolation for myself? Mike D'Antoni nodded, but Lin no longer needed permission. Just go, Jeremy. Just go, kid.
Around him on the floor, Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert rushed to the corners, wanting to bring defenders with them. "He was going to shoot it," Shumpert said, "and we just needed to get out of his way." They were spectators now, the world waiting on Lin, bouncing the ball 30 feet out. Ten seconds … five, and soon the ball was in the air, and that thunderous sound turned silent for a few fleeting moments.
This hadn't been Lin's easiest night on this historic run. These Toronto Raptors had gone to great pains to throw defender upon defender on him. Moments earlier, Lin had gone to the rim, absorbed a hard foul, made the free throw and delivered himself one more platform, one more stage, to do it again. All night, the Raptors hit Lin on his way to the basket and then hit him again on his tumble to the floor. Only, Lin kept getting up, kept coming, and now the face of his defender was flushed with fear. Jose Calderon gave Lin a few feet of space. As the clock ticked to the end, Lin knew it was too late to get to the rim, knew the Raptors were pushing him to his left, to the middle.
The Knicks' center, Tyson Chandler, couldn't believe Lin was letting the clock run down with a tie game. Get the shot up and give the Knicks a chance for the tip, the soft bank at the buzzer. With five seconds left, Chandler still thought Lin would drive to the basket. He didn't. When the clock reached three, Chandler thought, "He's wasted the chance for us to get the rebound."
And then the ball was in the air, and Chandler, these Knicks, knew there was nothing left but to become spectators, to climb on this ride with Lin and watch where it carried them. The shot dropped through the rim with .5 seconds left in the Knicks' 90-87 victory, and it wouldn't be long before these Knicks surrounded Jeremy Lin as the buzzer sounded, laughing and laughing and laughing together.
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"Because we're all saying, 'Of course,' " Landry Fields said. "Of course he did it again."
Lin had 27 points, 11 assists and delivered this game in the final minute like he's been doing it forever in the NBA. Only, forever's been six games and five starts this season. When it was over, Lin was asked: Can you believe this is happening to you?
Lin smiled sheepishly and said simply: "No."
Everyone wants to compare this story to something and someone – hey, he's Tim Tebow – and here's truly what Jeremy Lin is most like: nothing and no one.
Nothing and no one ever.
"It's one thing if this is Kyrie Irving," Chandler said. "Or John Wall. There's expectations. Coming in, you think, 'Wow, this kid is going to be special.' You don't see this coming. Undrafted, gets cut from Golden State, cut in [Houston], and probably days away from being cut by the New York Knicks. And then all of a sudden … "
And then all of sudden, a movement. In the last two road games, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors did something they hadn't all season: They sold out the gate. Here, they cheered Lin longer and louder than anyone on the Raptors. When Lin won the game, the din was deafening. What do the great players always tell you about hitting the big shot on the road, and what they love about the sound in the arena: the silence. They love the silence.
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Here, the Air Canada Centre exploded. It was mayhem. Perhaps everyone knows this is something for the ages, something that's become a happening, and it hardly mattered that Lin had done it to them. It was just that Lin had done it again, and, man, it was something to behold.
"You see what he's done in arenas, and you see what happens when he's introduced during away games," Fields said. "The crowd's going nuts. It's almost like a home game out there for us."
The NBA is such a league of jealousy and agendas and angles. Everyone is playing one – management, coaches, players. That's the beauty of this story, the innocence of it. They're watching Lin win these games night after night, and admiring his poise on and off the floor. He was met in Toronto with his photo spread across the upper fold of the morning paper and by a news conference with more than 50 cameras and dozens of reporters.
They all know Lin's embarrassed by it and does his best to deflect it all. He talks about the team, about winning. He came out on Tuesday night and tried to tell people the Knicks weren't winning because of him, but because of the way they had come together. He didn't want to talk about his shot, his heroics, his incredible, indelible mark on the history of the game. He started to praise his teammates, one by one: Shumpert's defense on Calderon in the fourth; Fields' floor game; Chandler's muscle inside; the plays that D'Antoni called for them.
Stoudemire played his first game with Lin and declared afterward: "He reminds me a lot of Steve [Nash]." There's no higher compliment. Yet, they all understand Jeremy Lin is his own man, his own player, and no one has witnessed something so remarkable in the sport. After the Knicks had run off the Air Canada Centre floor and into the locker room, they celebrated stepping out of the way of one more loss like they would a New York cab screeching past them. It was loud and alive, and these Knicks felt like kids again.
"This is the greatest story in sports," Jared Jeffries beamed.
For a moment, Chandler, an NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks, tried to slow down some of his teammates. Hey guys, we beat the Raptors, all right? It's February. Go easy. Trouble was, he could barely convince himself. And then Jeremy Lin burst through the locker room door, and the Knicks went wild again. They mobbed him and laughed and asked each other all over again: What the hell is happening here?
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To a man, they've stopped trying to make comparisons because there are none. Someone asked D'Antoni about when Carmelo Anthony comes back, and who will take the big shots, and the coach couldn't say it would be 'Melo anymore. "I don't know," D'Antoni said, and he knew that was a problem for a different day.
The kid turned to D'Antoni on Tuesday night and wondered whether he could call an isolation play for himself. No timeouts, no set plays, no X's and O's getting in the way of Jeremy Lin's instincts, his touch, his magic. The clock was bleeding to 0:00, and soon Jeremy Lin had gathered himself, elevated into the air, and one more shot seemed to be traveling into the warm embrace of destiny.
"Every single night, you don't see it coming," Tyson Chandler marveled. "And then he does it again."
Like nothing, like no one we've ever seen. Against all odds, Jeremy Lin. Somehow, the best story in sports gets bigger again.
So, this movement marches onto Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Perhaps someday the clock will finally run out on the magic of Jeremy Lin, but until then, the directive stays unchanged, and undaunted.
Just go, kid.
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