Jeremy Lin wanted to stay in New York after last season, and on Monday night he got the chance to show James Dolan why he should have matched the Rockets' offer sheet.
Lin finished on top in his return to New York with 22 points and 8 assists while playing all but nine minutes of this contest. The Rockets picked up a valuable win over a sure playoff caliber opponent by following Lin’s lead, executing the fast break with precision and finding easy baskets through good penetration and solid pick and roll play.
Lin’s has been inconsistent this season as he came in averaging 10 points and 6 dimes per game, but when he plays like he did on Monday, reminiscent of his performance last Monday against San Antonio, the Rockets quickly become a much tougher team to beat.
On the night, the Rockets shot 51 percent, largely due to the fact that they outscored the Knicks 25-10 on the break and 52-46 in the paint. James Harden fed off Lin throughout the night, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds to lead Houston in both of those categories.
Overall, it was a quiet night from the Rockets front court, but that was okay. With Lin breaking the 20 point mark for just the third time this season, he made up for much of the scoring difference and was assisted by Carlos Delfino scoring 16 off the bench and Marcus Morris providing 13 as the only other Rockets to break into double figures.
In the second and third quarters, the Rockets provided the offensive spark that would win them the game. Outscoring New York 54-29 over the two quarters, Houston essentially made the closing 12 minutes meaningless as they wiped the floor with New York. Those two periods are typically the Rockets best portion of any given game as they have the second best offense in the league in the middle two periods, but this performance was above average even for them.
The biggest difference in this game, however, went way beyond the Rockets getting Lin at his best or which portions of the game they lit the Knicks up. Kevin McHale’s team took the floor on Monday night with a heightened commitment to defending by holding New York’s fifth best offense in the league under 100 points, well below the Rockets average of 103.7 allowed per game. The team finished with 13 steals, significantly higher than their 8 steals per game average and refused to allow Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler any of their typical pick and roll joy as Chandler finished with just eight points.
In the end, the 109-96 score could have flattered the Rockets even more if Chandler Parsons met his 15.5 point per game average on the night or if Omer Asik had come close to his double-double average of 10 points and 11 rebounds per game, but they didn’t. Despite this, the Rockets beat the Knicks by double digits for a second time this season.
While critics, and perhaps the Rockets themselves, will credit much of this win to Lin, the truth is that Rockets present a nightmare for some teams because of their ability to run the floor and score easy baskets. For a slow paced team like the Knicks, currently ranked last in the league in fast break points, the youthful energy of this Rockets team is just too much.
Houston’s offensive prowess is something that McHale can take pride in, but if there is one aspect of this win, which brings his team back to .500 (12-12), that he’ll want to focus on, it’s the play of his defense. If Houston can defend the way they did on Monday, forcing 17 turnovers and making the Knicks to shoot below their 45 percent season average, Lin and company will spend more time above the .500 mark than struggling to get back to it.