An inconsistent season for Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin has carried over into the playoffs. The headliner at Madison Square Garden in the 2011-2012 season has had some struggles in rekindling “Linsanity” in the Lone Star state.
But Lin has also had his share of brilliant moments. He showcased his ability to lift a team through despair on Wednesday night with the Rockets facing elimination against the Portland Trail Blazers at Toyota Center in Game Five. The Rockets held the Blazers to just 43.4 percent shooting and under 100 points for the first time in the series, winning 108-98, to force a Game Six at Moda Center in Portland.
Coming off the bench, Lin shot 9-15 from the field for 21 points, and added four assists, two steals, and one block in 31 minutes. It was the type of effort the Rockets desperately needed with starting backcourt James Harden and Patrick Beverley combining to shoot just 7-21 from the floor.
"I just tried to be aggressive," said Lin. "I felt like I needed to be a spark for the team."
Not only did he spark the team, he spared them from playoff humiliation. An early exit from the postseason would be a major disappointment for head coach Kevin McHale. There has been a great deal of pressure on the Rockets this season to advance to at least the Western Conference Finals after the signing of Dwight Howard, and with Harden and Chandler Parsons making up the nucleus.
Lin also needed a bounce-back game after a forgettable Game Four. He was even booed by home fans on Wednesday. After committing three turnovers and converting just one shot in six attempts, Lin responded with the best postseason game of his career.
When he has his shooting stroke going, and when he finds a lane to penetrate, Lin has been a force. He has also done a solid job scoring in three-of-five games in the series, despite frequently being guarded by lockdown defender Wes Matthews.
In Game One, Lin scored seven of Houston’s 14 overtime points. He also scored 13 points, six assists, and four rebounds in the Rockets’ Game Three win.
Perhaps only another big playoff game may satisfy Lin’s critics. The 25-year-old has been used as a reserve for much of the season, and there have been calls that he has been a “bust” in Houston. He was subjected to trade rumors before the deadline.
It’s somewhat baffling that Lin has had to deal with such criticism this season. He has dealt with a nagging back, and inconsistent minutes in McHale’s rotation, yet still averaged 12.5 points per game and shot a respectable 44.6 field-goal percentage.
Perhaps some of the blame may fall on Lin’s subpar February. He shot just 40.7 percent from the field and averaged just 9.9 points per game. While Lin was in a shooting slump, the Rockets were on a roll, winning eight of their 10 games in the month.
Looking forward, the Rockets may need more strong performances from Lin for the rest of the series. The Blazers have an explosive backcourt and are expected to be favored at home in Game Six. Lin may be called upon to be a catalyst in a small-guard lineup and stretch the floor with Howard as the lone big man. Should Lin find a way to create space for his own shot, he can punish the likes of Matthews and Mo Williams.
The winner of the series will face the winner of the San Antonio Spurs – Dallas Mavericks series in the Western Conference Semifinals.