NEW YORK – Hours before Jeremy Lin had destroyed the Dallas Mavericks, delivered one more magical Madison Square Garden performance, Jason Terry raised an eyebrow and let loose with a sly smile. He hadn't come to celebrate Linsanity, but bring it context.
Asked how much of Lin's historic, hellacious success has been a product of New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's renowned offensive system, Terry told Yahoo! Sports, "To me, it's 100 percent what it is."
Before long, Terry stopped and corrected himself.
"Ninety-five percent," he said.
There was no nastiness out of Terry, just an old Western Conference guard who's a little suspicious of it all. Before Lin had seen the Mavericks' Shawn Marion guarding him Sunday, before the mid-court traps and blitzes out of the defending champion's defense had been thrust on Lin, Terry preached caution. Check back later and let's see how it goes for the kid. And when later arrived, Lin had 28 points, 14 assists and five steals in the Knicks' 104-97 victory.
The fourth quarter came, and so did the big shots, the big passes, and the loud, long Linsanity ovations. Once more, Lin had turned the Garden upside down. Once more, he had New York, had a nation, on a yo-yo. And when it was over, Terry hadn't changed his mind. No Linsanity for Terry. He isn't alone in the NBA. In a lot of ways, this is an underestimation of Lin's ability, but it isn't an isolated opinion. Terry sees D'Antoni's system, and he sees inflated stats. It's a way to dismiss this historic run, and somewhere between Lin's great ability and D'Antoni's perfectly fitted system, there's an ultimate truth.
"If you play 46 minutes (a game) in this league, you have an opportunity to put up some nice numbers," Terry said. "Again, it is what it is. He'll have to maintain this pace. It's going to be tough. Ask anybody: Give them an opportunity, ball in their hands, 20-plus shots and you better do something."
Lin's done something, done a lot and still he'll need to do more. And more. And more. Within the NBA, Lin's story has become a runaway locomotive, and he keeps feeding this monster with victory after victory, performance after performance. Terry would go on to compliment Lin's journey, his toughness, his faith, but Jeremy Lin as a burgeoning NBA star seems farfetched to him.
There's something to the notion that Lin's talents are perfectly suited for D'Antoni's system, that he's a beneficiary of it, but the Knicks have plugged plenty of journeymen into the job and watched them fail. D'Antoni needed a savior, and he dropped out of the sky for him.
Pushback has been inevitable, and Terry isn't the only player skeptical of the hysteria. For the defending champions, they weren't thrilled with playing the part of prop for the next installment in Jeremy Lin's fairy tale. The good teams used to love this trip to New York: Hang out in the city, play the Garden and get an easy win.
Lin's changed it. Truth be told, Lin's changed everything here.
There was one of those moments Sunday, when NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki was isolated on Lin late in the fourth, late in a Knicks' comeback, and everyone knew what was coming. The Mavericks were within a basket, within reach, and Lin was rocking the ball back and forth and everyone had to expect what would happen next. A long, sure three-pointer to seal the victory, one final dagger into Dallas.
Once again, he made daring drives for baskets and fouls, made shots, made passes and had his hands pilfering passes everywhere on the floor. He's still turning the ball over a lot – seven on Sunday – but no one will care much as long as the Knicks are winning. The ball was in his hands, the Mavericks were trapping, blitzing and it was inevitable. "This system is amazing for (Lin)," Marion said. "They're running a thousand pick and rolls. He'll go from one to another if he doesn't get what he wants."
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One by one, the Knicks are bringing back and bringing in bigger talents to surround Lin. Amar'e Stoudemire made his return Tuesday in Toronto. J.R. Smith made his Knicks debut Sunday. How did D'Antoni handle it? Well, he didn't call plays. He didn't run plays. He let Lin go pure playground, trusted the ball movement, the passing, that's blossomed with Lin running his team. D'Antoni's value as a coach is centered on his offensive system, and its revival under Lin gives him a chance to keep this job – or re-position himself for the next one.
For the first time, this will be D'Antoni's offense, and his point guard running it. And as the coach tries to keep this job – or get the next one – he won't mind the notion that Jason Terry, that a lot of players, will be pushing throughout the NBA: Lin is less phenom, and more pawn in the coach's famous system.
"It wouldn't have happened elsewhere," Terry said. "He was in (Golden State and Houston) and it didn't happen. He wasn't given the opportunity in those places, or with those systems. He probably didn't fit. But in this system, he's perfect."
Wherever the credit goes, make no mistake: This is a dream system for a dreamy guard. He'll have to keep up this pace, Terry warned for Lin, and the kid just keeps going, and going, and going.
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