It was going to be another win for Jeremy Lin, the sensational undrafted rookie out of Harvard University, who had helped the New York Knicks win their last seven games while breaking plenty of NBA records in the process.
But it was not in the cards for Lin on Friday night, as he and his Knicks got stung by the New Orleans Hornets, the second worst team in the NBA. The Knicks lost, 89-85. Lin's incredible Cinderella win streak ends at seven games.
The Knicks fall to 15-16, and the Hornets improve to 7-23 with their third straight win.
New Orleans ranks among the worst in the league in points scored, rebounds, and assists. They are, however, ranked ninth overall in defense, and they kept the Knicks offense in check all night.
Trevor Ariza did most of the scoring for New Orleans, finishing the game with 25 points and 8 rebounds. Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez also made big plays and plenty of assists for his team. Vasquez, the 2010 ACC Player of the Year out of Maryland, had a double-double by the end of the first quarter, and finished the game with 15 points and 11 assists. More importantly, he played good defense against Lin, distributed the ball and knocked down shots.
Jeremy Lin, who has been the unexpected breakout star of the NBA this season, finished the game with 26 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 4 steals, but more importantly, 9 turnovers, including 8 in the first half. Amar'e Stoudemire finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony is still on the bench with an injured groin, but he is expected to be activated by Sunday for the Knicks' game against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Hornets led the Knicks for the entire game, starting the game with a 14-point lead over the home New York squad. It started only got close towards the end of regulation.
With 6:00 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Knicks were making a run back from a 10-point deficit to start the quarter. The home crowd was in the frenzy, meanwhile Lin was still standing at the table waiting to check back into the game. Jared Jeffries hit a big jumper to make it a three point game, the Hornets took a timeout, and Lin came in once more. New York seemed to have all the momentum going into the final minutes of the game.
Mexican big man Gustavo Ayon quieted the crowd by going to the hoop, getting the bucket and drawing the foul. He was hit in the nose too, but he made the free throw anyway. With less than five to go, the Knicks trailed by five, 76-71.
With two minutes to go, Marco Belinelli banked in a killer three, but Lin responded with a quick two of his own to make the game 80-77. At that point, both teams had reached the foul limit.
With one minute left to go in the game, Lin made two clutch free throws, but again, Ayon responded with a quick layup at the other end of the court to quiet the crowd.
On the next Knicks possession, Lin's wild layup attempt missed badly. The Hornets' Marco Belinelli caught the ball from out of bounds, but held it to his chest. He had nowhere to go, but two New York players, Landry Fields and Jeffries, went for the steal anyway and got called for the foul. The resulting play gave New Orleans a five point lead with 25 seconds left.
With time ticking away, Steve Novak and Fields attempted two crowd-hushing three-pointers -- both good looks -- but they missed. Stoudemire tried to save the ball from going out of bounds, but the Hornets' Jarrett Jack caught the ball. The crowd went silent with 15 seconds to play, as they saw Jack increase the Hornets' lead to a two possession game, increasing the lead by seven.
Hope seemed lost as the clock ticked to zero. But then, Stoudemire ran to the basket, hit a banker and was fouled. He hit the and-one to make it a four point game, 89-85, with 11.7 seconds to go.
The Knicks had one last chance with three seconds to go, but they needed a four-point play. A made three-pointer and a foul. A miracle. But Lin didn't take the shot, Stoudemire did. And he didn't make it. The Knicks lost for the first time with Lin on the court.
Coming into the game, Lin was 6-0 as a starting point guard for the Knicks, who were expected to lose many games after losing All Stars Anthony and Stoudemire to injury.
But Lin came out of nowhere and saved the Knicks with his plays, which were not only dazzling, but smart. Save for his turnovers, he has consistently managed to find his teammates in ways no other Knicks point guard has been able to do recently. Suddenly, an undrafted 23-year-old out of Harvard University, who was released by the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, was now being compared to the likes of Steve Nash.
Lin gave the Knicks a big lift during New York's big seven-game streak, but he has also given fans around the world a reason to cheer for New York again. Lin scored more points in his first six games than any other player in history, and he's helped his Knicks stay in games by constantly making the right decisions on the court, which has also given his teammates, including lesser-known names like Steve Novak, plenty of time in the spotlight, too.
Lin can score, he can dish, and he can dunk. However, he has been plagued by assists over most of his games. On Friday night, he turned the ball over five times in the first quarter with eight overall in the first half in the first half. Lin had just one turnover in the third and fourth quarters, however.
The New York Knicks looked uncomfortable in their own skin Friday night, but they have all season. To Coach Mike D'Antoni's credit, he's been able to adapt over a roster that's seen countless changes in the last year. Besides the innumerable injuries, the team added super stars like Anthony and Stoudemire, draft picks like Iman Shumpert and Fields, and free agents like Baron Davis, and, as of today, J.R. Smith. The Knicks signed a short-term contract deal with J.R. Smith on Friday, who just recently returned stateside after a stint of professional basketball in China, which he agreed to during the NBA lockout. Now, Smith joining the Knicks franchise will reunite with his old Denver teammate in Anthony.
The Knicks came into the game with a decent record -- an even 15-15 -- but the Hornets were not expected to lead at all in this game. Instead, they did just the opposite; they never trailed once.
Compared to upwards trajectory of the Knicks, the New Orleans Hornets have struggled mightily since losing their star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers last fall. The Hornets have been undermanned all season, also due to injuries, but on Friday the team cut into the heart of the Knicks defense and make several good plays in the paint.
In the game, both squads had plenty of thrown opportunities, but turnovers was what ultimately lost the game for New York's energetic squad. Even the first quarter was depressing: By the end, the Knicks trailed the second-to-last-place Hornets 27-13. Lin had just two points on three attempts, one rebound, one assist, but five turnovers.
At halftime, New Orleans had a slim lead over New York, but it was incredible that the Knicks scored 39 points in the half, and yet despite scoring no three-pointers and having plenty of trouble at the line, they only trailed the Hornets by 4. That says more about the Hornets than it does the Knicks, who are in a rebuilding effort.
There were many celebrities in attendance, including ex-Beatles frontman Paul McCartney, CNN's Piers Morgan, actor Liev Schreiber, ex-Knick Anthony Mason, NFL Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice, actress Edie Flaco, and of course, director and perennial Knicks fanboy Spike Lee.