TORONTO >> Already writing the NBA’s best story, Jeremy Lin has now scripted a thrilling finish.
Nothing about the kid from Harvard should be a surprise anymore. When he launched a 3-pointer in a tie game with a half-second left in Toronto on Tuesday night, the result seemed obvious.
“I knew it was going in,” Knicks guard Iman Shumpert said.
Who would doubt it at this point?
Lin’s 3-pointer capped his finishing flurry of six straight points to close the game as the Knicks rallied for a 90-87 victory over the Raptors, extending their winning streak to six.
Their season sputtering just two weeks ago, before Lin escaped the bench, the Knicks (14-15) can get back to .500 with a victory over Sacramento on Wednesday.
And with Lin running their show, that’s exactly what they expect.
“He continues to impress every night,” New York’s Jared Jeffries said. “Every game he plays better, he does more and more to help us win basketball games. You can’t ask any more of a kid coming into this situation.”
Huge in New York, Linsanity was even bigger in Toronto, whose international community couldn’t wait for a look at the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
A season-high crowd of 20,092 was only the Raptors’ second sellout of the season, and some 75 reporters and 16 cameras packed a Tuesday morning press conference to hear Lin speak.
“Are we in the playoffs now?” coach Mike D’Antoni joked as he made his way to the front of the room.
Not yet, but they sure have a shot now with Lin.
The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week scored 27 points and added a career-high 11 assists, shaking off a sloppy first half to carry the Knicks down the stretch.
Toronto led 87-82 with less than two minutes to go when Shumpert stole the ball from Jose Calderon and drove in for an uncontested dunk. After a missed shot, Lin completed a three-point play, tying it at 87 with 1:05 left.
Leandro Barbosa missed a 3 for Toronto and, at the other end, Shumpert missed a jumper but Tyson Chandler grabbed the rebound. Lin took the ball near midcourt and let the clock run down to 5 seconds before driving and pulling up against Calderon to bury the decisive shot.
“You just watch and you’re in awe,” D’Antoni said. “He held it until five-tenths of a second left. He was pretty confident that was going in, no rebounds, no nothing. That ball was being buried.”
Lin, cut by both Golden State and Houston in December, struggled early. He didn’t score for the first eight minutes of the game, then turned the ball over on three straight possessions early in the second quarter and Toronto took advantage with a 6-0 run, widening its lead to 13 points.
That was long forgotten by the end.
“When he hit that shot it was simply amazing, we were hugging at midcourt like we’d won a championship,” said Amare Stoudemire, who scored 21 points after missing four games following the death of an older brother in a Florida car crash.
Scouts and general managers may have missed Lin when he went undrafted two years ago, but people all over the NBA are watching him now. The reaction to his winner on Twitter was similar to one of LeBron James’ or Blake Griffin’s huge dunks.
“It’s crazy!” Phoenix guard Steve Nash wrote. “I’m watching Linsanity hoping every shot goes in. Hope I never grow up.”
But Lin deflects the praise to his teammates, even though they were going nowhere until he started getting real minutes on Feb. 4.
“It’s not because of me, it’s because we’re coming together as a team,” Lin said. “We started making these steps earlier but we were still losing close games and so obviously it wasn’t fun. But when you win, that solves a lot of problems. We’ve been winning and we’ve been playing together.”