HOUSTON >> Jeremy Lin stood in the hallway, surrounded by a mass of reporters stuffing cameras and recorders in front of him, a sight familiar to those who watched his meteoric rise last season in New York, a brief flash of light across the NBA.
But now he was down the hall from the Knicks’ locker room, in a different uniform and the glamorous magic of last year was replaced by a flash of a smile that featured a chipped tooth in the front, a hard-nosed look more symbolic of what he and the Houston Rockets had just done to the Knicks.
The Rockets beat the Knicks from start to finish. And while it was no conjuring of Linsanity this time, the result was the same — a hard to explain 131-103 beating of the Knicks.
Lin had a pedestrian 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists, but it was as if the Knicks were watching only him. James Harden had 33 and Chandler Parsons added 31 — 26 coming in the first half when he topped his career high in just two quarters.
“I feel like I’m not looking to recreate what happened in New York,” Lin said, his front tooth chipped from a collision just before halftime. “For me, I want to be a consistent player, I want to get better. I don’t know what my potential is and I don’t know if I could play any better than I did during that one-week stretch, but we’ll find out and see how close I can get.”
If Lin chipping his tooth and staying in the game and on the attack was a sign of what the Rockets did, the real definition for the Knicks came in the third quarter when the Knicks were on their heels, frustrated and falling apart.
Carmelo Anthony raced back on the defensive end of the floor. But he wasn’t racing to defend, instead arguing the length of the floor with referee Curtis Blair — missing the play behind him as Patrick Patterson threw down an emphatic dunk. The call of a technical on Anthony at least put him in the play.
On a night that was supposed to be about a rematch with Lin, it was instead a night to display the worst tendencies of the team that Lin departed from. Anthony finished with 37 points in 34 minutes, but spent as much time moaning as he did scoring.
“It is frustrating,” Anthony said. “It gets frustrating out there. You do your best to try and do your best, get fouled, go to the hole, create something, it don’t happen. That gets frustrating. And then you go down to the other end of the court and something do happens. That’s always the frustration when that sets in. Maybe I got to do a better job of not getting so frustrated and just accept the fact that this is the way it’s going to be.”
This was last year’s worst Knicks moments — the coach-killing sort of effort — that brought rise to Lin in the first place. In the third quarter, less than a minute after Anthony was called for the technical Tyson Chandler drew a Flagrant 1 foul for an elbow he threw at Omer Asik.
“They kicked our butts for four quarters,” Chandler said. “It wasn’t just the third. They came ready to play.”
The Knicks surrendered 114 points Wednesday, the most they’d given up since Mike Woodson took over last March, and topped that easily on this night — giving up 72 points in the first half alone and 104 through three quarters before both teams emptied their benches.
It wasn’t a Lin-driven loss or a case of the Rockets rallying around Lin. It was just a disaster.
“That team looked like they wanted to beat us,” Chandler said. “I don’t think it was for anybody. They came out ready to play. They kicked our butts for four quarters. They were better than us tonight.
“You’ve got to be concerned. We’ve got to get it together. That team, first of all, they’re not better than us. they’re not 30 points better than us. That’s no disrespect to them. We can’t allow that to happen.”
If there was anticipation outside the organization and inside the Knicks’ locker room for a meeting Friday night with Lin, it wasn’t coming from Mike Woodson. For Woodson, the game represented another notch on the schedule and, finally, an end to Linsanity. What he saw didn’t exactly warm his heart.
Asked what he saw defensively, he answered, “What you saw, nothing. Tonight was just, they beat us in every way you can beat a team. I know throughout the course of a year, a season, you have games like this. But it’s not acceptable. We just weren’t ready to play and that’s on me.”
Woodson found himself in the middle of the parting this summer when he declared that Lin would absolutely be back and would be the Knicks starting point guard. Then step by step that fell apart, first with the Knicks chasing Steve Nash, which would have sent Lin to the second unit. And then when Linnegotiated — and renegotiated — a poison-pill contract that would pay him $25 million over three season, including a third year of $14.9 million, the Knicks moved quickly in another direction.
They dealt for Raymond Felton, came to terms with Jason Kidd and let Lin know, it’s been magical, but it’s over.
“That’s a business decision,” Woodson said Friday morning. “I don’t think it was difficult. We just decided to go in a different direction, based on the guys I thought I liked in terms of Raymond and Kidd and Pablo (Prigioni). They’ve been great for us.
“My thing is this: It was a good run, but we went in a different direction. We went out and we fielded guys like Kidd and Raymond and Pablo, guys we felt can help us and they’ve been great for us.”
Not on this night they weren’t, not better and not tougher.