On Monday night, Jeremy Lin returned to the very stomping grounds of where "Linsanity" was first unleashed. Unfortunately for the Knicks, the point guard's return was just as successful as his initial case of "Linsanity" first was.
Treated to loud cheers from the Madison Square Garden crowd before the game began, Lin wasted no time building on such momentum. The floor general hit the ground running as he penetrated to the basket, driving in such a way that made Knicks fans remember what made him so successful in the Big Apple.
With Lin's help, the Rockets pulled ahead early, but somehow the Knicks managed to keep pace in the first quarter. But after even coming up with a two-point lead heading into the second, New York failed to display that killer instinct necessary to put away an opponent.
Clearly sensing a lack of drive from the Knickerbockers, the Rockets pounced, going on a 27-11 run in the second quarter. As part of his Big Apple encore, Lin continued to lead the charge for his team.
Eclipsing his 11 point per game average by pouring in 16 through the first half alone, Lin undeniably did a good job of toying with his new opponent's defense. What was more, the Harvard grad also worked his way inside as he found teammates in the right spots.
New York struggled all game long, but it wasn't quite all Lin who ultimately sunk the Knicks. As fate would have it, the team seemingly sunk themselves. Without Carmelo Anthony for the second straight contest, the team appeared desperate for someone to step up on the offensive end. Unfortunately for them, no one did until it was too late.
Both Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith played well in spurts during the early goings of the game, but little support could be found elsewhere. In addition, if the pair was to be the Knicks' main source of scoring for the evening, they should have been heavily highlighted and featured as such. Neither player was given the opportunity to dominate with the ball in their hands. Because of this, New York struggled without a clear number one option to lead the way.
Regardless of how much longer Anthony will be out for this current stretch, Coach Mike Woodson and the Knicks need to realize, recongize, and embrace one simple strategy, should the team be left gasping for air on offense like this ever again: Make J.R. Smith your Melo.
Of course, Smith has proven over the years to be as streaky as they come with regard to catching hot or cold. That said, his ability to make it rain from any spot on the floor makes him that much more versatile. He has the ability to take over a game and dominate a defense, should his shooting stroke be on point. Should the Knicks choose to embrace Smith as a starring attraction in the absence of Anthony, the team's fate hangs solely in his hands. While that's risky, it may be a worthwhile move when the team is unable to turn to anyone else anyway.
As New York continued to free-fall towards its first loss at home in the young season, Lin began to ease up on his former team in the second half. Unfortunately for them, however, that's exactly when the second-half of Houston's one-two punch took over. While Lin finished with 22 points and 8 assists (marking one of his better outings thus far), it was James Harden who led the Rockets in scoring. He totaled 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on the way to helping his team keep the Knicks down for good.
Felton added 14 points and Smith poured in 17 off the bench as well, but it wasn't until later in the game when the Knicks found their surprising number one option. Though Woodson has been hesitant to give Chris Copeland major minutes because of his tentative nature on the court, the forward impressed late in the game. As New York hoped to earn a bit more respect as they attempted to narrow the ever so insurmountable Rockets' lead, the first-year NBA forward stole the show.
Copeland fooled Houston's defense, soaring to the hoop in a number of flashy ways. Not afraid to shoot the basketball with pressure all but off, Copeland converted on field goals again and again. Giving the Knicks the smallest bit of life, the 28 year old led his team with an eye-popping 29 points.
There's no denying the Knicks struggled in this one. Despite losing by a score of 109-96, it wasn't quite the team's defense that led to New York's downfall. Instead, it was that lack of a reliable scorer when the team needed it most.
There's no need to freak out after one game, as the Knicks have shown an abundance of resiliency and promise thus far. That said, a scorer capable of taking over the game and pacing New York's offensive contributions will be necessary if the team desires to resume its winning ways.