The feel-good story of the NBA season played at the Air Canada Centre on Valentine’s Day – and the expressions of love for Jeremy Lin were in evidence throughout the building.
From everyone, that is, but the Toronto Raptors, who became the latest team to fall victim to the wave of “Linsanity” that has engulfed the NBA the past 10 days.
While Raptors did their best to pester the league’s latest sensation, the 23-year-old point guard enjoyed the last laugh as the Knicks (14-15) overcame an early 17-point disadvantage to stun Toronto 90-87 before a capacity gathering at the ACC on Tuesday.
As he has throughout his magical run – now five wins in his first five NBA starts – Lin came to play, especially in the fourth quarter, where he almost personally dismantled the Raptors (9-21).
Lin made a daring drive into the paint and somehow managed to get a one-handed jumper to fall while being fouled by Amir Johnson. Lin then drained the free throw and the game was tied at 87-87 with little more than a minute left.
But the best was yet to come.
After a Raptors miss, the Knicks came back up court and, with time running out on the clock, Lin calmly measured up rival guard Jose Calderon, who led Toronto with 25 points, at the top of the key.
Lin faked a drive, stepped back and then launched a three-point shot that cleanly fell through for the winning points with just 0.5 seconds left, lifting New York to its sixth win in a row.
“Just tried to take whatever Calderon was going to give me, try to be aggressive and make sure you get a good shot at the end of the clock,” Lin said of the play of the game.
“I’m just glad it went like this so we can calm the insanity down a little bit,” Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni joked after.
Lin finished with a game-high 27 points and a career-best 11 assists.
He started the night being greeted by a rousing cheer during the pregame player introductions. Signs throughout the arena wished him a happy Va-Lin-tine’s Day.
D’Antoni remains impressed with the young guard’s composure.
“He only held [the ball] until 0.5 seconds left,” D’Antoni marvelled. “He’s pretty confident that's going in. No rebound, no nothing. That ball was getting buried.”
Installing Lin as the Knicks starting point guard had originally been more of a desperation move than anything else.
D’Antoni’s job was felt to be hanging in the balance and with injuries and the absence of forward Amaré Stoudamire, who missed four games after the death of his brother in a car accident, Lin was almost a starter by default.
Lin, who was born in the United States of Taiwanese descent, has became an overnight sensation.
Harvard University educated but overlooked in the draft two years ago by every NBA team, Lin has made the most of his starting role and became the first player in league history to have at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his four career starts.
Last Friday, against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden, Lin soared for 38 points and outplayed long-time star Kobe Bryant in leading the Knicks to a rousing victory.
Linsanity was born.
The New York club quickly started stocking their store with Lin merchandise, and his replica jerseys flew off the shelves. Lin was named Eastern Conference player of the week and his picture is splashed all over the cover of the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.
“It’s a great story,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey acknowledged before Tuesday’s game. “You could not write a book or a movie better than the story he’s putting on now. But not tonight.”
Or so he had hoped.
The ACC was filled with 20,092 for the game and the Raptors were besieged by requests from the Asian media in the GTA for accreditation. When the Knicks held their shootaround at the ACC earlier in the day, a separate room was set up just for Lin to speak to the media.
D’Antoni could hardly believe his eyes when he entered the room to face at least 17 television cameras and perhaps more than 30 reporters who all wanted his take on a player who has only made four NBA starts at that point.
The room was packed and about 40 more members of the press were kept outside in the hallway because of space limitations.
“I think it’s a miracle from God is the way I would describe it,” Lin said, when asked to somehow describe the whirlwind ride he has been on.
“Obviously, I don’t think anybody expected this to happen, the way it happened. Again, it’s a credit to the coaching staff, the team and everyone – just our whole team right now buying into what we think is the right way to play. We’re winning a few games, so we want to keep that up.”