The Houston Rockets are set to play the New York Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden. It may not be one the league's nicest buildings, but it is certainly one of it's most respected.
It's been the site for many great NBA moments, with the most recent one, of course, centered around red-hot Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, who returns tonight for the second time since his magical run with the Knicks during the 2011-12 season, that spawned an international phenomenon simply known as "Linsanity."
It all got started on a February night at the Garden in 2012. He came off the bench in the first quarter of a game against the then-New Jersey Nets. No one in the building that night could have predicted he would lead the Knicks to victory, but that's exactly what he did with 12 fourth quarter points. He also had a pair of assists as the Knicks turned a two-point deficit into a comfortable seven point win.
Lin had 25 points and seven assists in the game and that earned him a start in their next game. He would start each of the next 24 games after that because the team and city had never seen anything like him before. He had been just a guy on an NBA team, busting his butt in practice, knowing that the odds were against him as he languished on the bench, just hoping to maintain his roster spot.
But from this point on, everything he did, everything the Knicks did, everything he was even remotely involved with, fueled Linsanity. His numbers were stellar, with a shade better than 18 points and nearly eight assists per game. He would hurt his knee before the season ended and was unavailable for the Knicks postseason.
But Linsanity had been born and Lin was larger than life.
That was then and this is now and Lin is in year two of his three-year free agent contract with the Rockets. He's also coming off the bench. Well, that was the plan, but with injuries to Pat Beverley (rib contusion) and James Harden (bruised foot), Lin has started more games than he hasn't. Both roles have suited him well thus far.
He's even gone above and beyond some of the things that spawned Linsanity, like scoring 30 or more points in back-to-back games. In his 25 magical starts for the Knicks, he scored 30 or more points just once, his career high 38 points against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
On Monday night off the bench, he scored 31 points against the Raptors, then Wednesday night against the Sixers, starting for Harden, he scored 34 points. Of course these performances have again teased those in New York about what could still be theirs.
He made 9-of-15 3-pointers and that tied the Rockets franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a game, set by Robert Horry on Feb. 22, 1996. During the "Linsanity" run, he never made more than three 3-pointers in a game.
He also shot just 32 percent from the 3-point line in his final year in New York. This year through nine games, Lin is shooting 51.4 percent, having made 19-of-37 3-pointers already. That's good for 11th-best in the NBA and his adjusted field goal percentage (.641) is tied for fifth. He shares that spot with LeBron James.
Lin said he and the coaching staff talking about his role this season and how they wanted him to be aggressive in all areas, driving, distributing, and looking for his shot.
"Being able to attack and have that freedom to be able to be freelancing a little bit, I think that will be fun," Lin said.
He was speaking about what his role would be off the bench. Turns out that's what his role is period. It was worked out well as he heads back to the place where his career took off.