NEW YORK >> Linsanity lives.
Forget the off night that had NBA fans worldwide wondering if the Jeremy Lin story was too good to be true. It’s still plenty good, all right.
The Harvard sensation was back at his whirling ways Sunday, and the stage couldn’t have been better — against the defending champions on national TV.
Lin was Lin, and that was good enough for the New York Knicks to win.
Hours after the opening of “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the Lin phenomenon, the point guard had 28 points and a career-high 14 assists to carry the Knicks to a 104-97 victory that ended the Dallas Mavericks’ six-game winning streak.
“Looking back, it’s like I was watching them win the championship last year, and that’s obviously where this team wants to go,” Lin said.
“This is helpful to us, not just to me but to us, just to be able to see where our team can go and what we can become, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from tonight,” he said.
Lin already owns the highlights and headlines, and now he has some new admirers after bouncing back from a nine-turnover performance against lowly New Orleans by dominating a Dallas defense that made even LeBron James look ordinary in the NBA finals.
After the final buzzer, Lin got a hug from a fellow Bay Area product, and someone who knows a thing or two about playing the point — Mavs star Jason Kidd
“He looks a little bit like Steve Nash out there,” Kidd said, referring to the two-time MVP of the Phoenix Suns.
In a game of wild momentum swings, the Knicks reeled off 17 straight points in the first quarter, fell behind by 12 in the third, then pulled it out to beat the Mavericks for only the third time in the last 20 meetings.
“I think they found something in Lin, and they’re starting to piece together a team that can beat anyone,” Mavs guard Jason Terry said.
Steve Novak also delivered for the Knicks. He scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter, including four 3s. J.R. Smith scored 15 points in his Knicks debut as New York won for the eighth time in nine games.
Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-high 34 points for the Mavericks, who had been playing championship-level defense but became the latest team who couldn’t stop Lin.
“I was talking to them before the game and they were saying they had an answer for Lin,” said Knicks center Tyson Chandler, who played for the Mavs last season, “I guess they were dead wrong on their scouting report.”
Playing for the seventh straight game without the injured Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks got a huge lift from Smith, signed just Friday after returning from China.
Coach Mike D’Antoni had previously said Smith wouldn’t play Sunday since he hadn’t practiced yet. But when swingman Bill Walker also had to sit out with an injury, D’Antoni needed someone at that position, and Smith hit three of the Knicks’ 12 3-pointers.
“First five minutes was really mind blowing,” Smith said. “First thing I was thinking was don’t airball your first shot. You never live that down in New York City. So once I made my first one, that really got me going.”
Lin’s turnovers Friday night matched the most in the NBA this season Friday in an 89-85 loss to New Orleans that stopped a seven-game winning streak. He had seven more Sunday and has committed six or more in six straight games, but D’Antoni said Saturday he wanted Lin to keep taking risks.
That paid off Sunday, when Lin got the Knicks back into a game that had seemed to be getting away in the third quarter, before shooters all around him got going in the fourth.
“I thought we had the game under control,” Nowitzki said. “And then the fourth quarter, that really got the crowd back into it.”
Novak made four 3-pointers in about 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, then Lin buried one to give the Knicks a 90-81 lead with 6:51 remaining. The Mavs got it back down to two on Terry’s 3-pointer with 3:26 left, but Lin answered with a 3, and the Mavs couldn’t get closer than three again. Lin shot 11 of 20 overall.
Chandler capped it off with a dunk and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Mavs came in holding opponents to an NBA-low 41.4 percent shooting. They were limiting teams to 39.2 percent during the winning streak, but the Knicks carved them up for 54 percent in the first quarter as Lin ran the offense flawlessly.
Lin actually started his NBA career with the Mavs’ summer league team in 2010. But owner Mark Cuban said Lin preferred to play closer to home, and he signed with the Warriors, who cut him, as did Houston in December. The Knicks claimed him off waivers.
“It wasn’t luck because there were how many other teams that could have signed Jeremy and the Knicks were the ones who went out and got him,” Cuban said. “So they saw something and they were smart enough to go out and get him.”
Friday’s loss may have ended the Knicks’ winning streak, but certainly not the buzz around Lin. Sunday’s crowd included Kevin Costner, Eva Longoria, Spike Lee — wearing Lin’s No. 4 Harvard jersey — and another famous Harvard product, Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg. Lin’s high school coach from Palo Alto (Calif.) High School also made the trip.
Notes: Baron Davis was in uniform for the Knicks but didn’t play. He expects to make his season debut this week. … Cuban, on the decision not to re-sign Chandler, whose left wrist was hurting a bit after a hard fall: “We wouldn’t have been champions without Tyson. He’s a phenomenal player, he’s got incredible heart, he’s amazing in the locker room and that’s why we went out and got him. But the CBA changed everything and you have to adjust how you build and grow and maintain a team and try to win championship. So we did what we felt we had to do, not because we wanted to do it.”