After departing Wednesday’s loss to the Magic early due to an illness, the Charlotte Hornets decided to give forward Nicolas Batum the night off on Thursday, too. Batum, who has played on an all-star level since arriving in North Carolina, was replaced in the starting lineup by the team’s backup point guard: Jeremy Lin.
The first-year Hornet would justify the start as he played a crucial role in Charlotte’s 109-99 win over Toronto.
Personally, I loved the move by coach Steve Clifford. While Lin can’t replicate Batum’s length and versatility, he can reproduce some of his playmaking, shooting and passing. While Al Jefferson continues to serve his suspension, the Hornets can space the floor better than ever before, and a spread pick-and-roll attack, with room to operate, and with Lin and Kemba Walker at the controls is a good thing. Yay points.
Plus, Toronto starting Terrence Ross at the small forward spot gave Clifford the perfect place to stash Lin defensively. Ross had an obvious size advantage over Lin, but it didn’t matter; the Toronto swingman is a streaky shooter from outside (he did go 5-10 from deep on Thursday — you’ll live with that), but that’s about it. Charlotte never had to worry about Ross dragging Lin down to the block, or smoking him on a dribble-drive. Lin’s been solid on defense during his initial campaign in Clifford’s system, but he’ll never be confused for Tony Allen on that end of the floor, so a matchup with Ross was perfect to start things out.
The dual point guard lineup has been quite successful for Charlotte so far this season; Walker and Lin have shared the floor together for 298 minutes during the first six weeks of the season. According to NBA.com: in that span of time, the Hornets have outscored their opponents by nearly seven points per 100 possessions.
Lin is currently playing less than 25 minutes per game, and if he’d been hoping and wishing for more playing time, well, he got it last night. In a game that saw the Hornets surrender a 16-point second half lead, and ultimately went to overtime after Charlotte scored only 13 points in the fourth quarter, Lin was the best player on the floor.
Last night’s game lasted 53 minutes; Lin was on the court for more than 47 minutes. The Harvard man scored a game and season-high 35 points (13-22 from the field, 2-5 on threes), dished out four assists, grabbed five boards and somehow even blocked two shots. That’s right, you guys: Jeremy Lin, Rim Protector!
The Hornets scored 107.8 points per 100 possessions with Lin on the floor against Toronto, and yielded only 92.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Basically, Charlotte was a lot better with Lin in the game. In his nearly 48 minutes of PT last night, Lin covered a ton of ground, too: running a game-high 3.3 miles, per NBA.com player tracking. He was also second on the team in touches, behind only Walker.
Here’s a shot chart of Lin’s work Thursday night; as you can see, he did a lot of his work at the rim, where he was 7-12, including one really nice finish off an assist from big man Spencer Hawes:
This game almost didn’t even go into OT, but the Hornets made it to that extra period (zomg free basketball!) thanks to a HUGE assist from Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who called a timeout just before his star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan sunk a would-be 40-foot game-winner:
Thanks, Dwane. #RaptorsIcingRaptors
It’s almost too easy to pick and choose small moments in the course of the game, and say, THIS IS WHEN THINGS CHANGED, THIS WAS THE DEFINING PLAY.
However, after going to overtime, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry — the best point guard in the Eastern Conference so far this season — buried a short seven-foot shot, which gave the Raptors a 92-90 lead. 22 seconds later, though, Lin splashed a 25-foot three-pointer. The shot gave the lead back over to Charlotte — and, according to Inpredictable.com, it changed the team’s win probability from 39.8 percent to 53.1 percent, which is a major swing.
And if you were watching the game, this passed the eye test, too. Momentum is a silly thing, but this shot stopped the bleeding, and completely altered the outcome during that final five-minute session. It offered a sigh of relief, and got the Hornets back on track.
Batum is currently listed as questionable from Saturday’s showdown with John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Let’s hope he’s back — Charlotte needs him, but if not, look to Lin getting his second straight start.
The Hornets are currently fifth in the East, and a major reason for that has been the contributions of Lin, who at $2.1 million is an incredible value for Michael Jordan and Rich Cho. He has a player option for the 2016-17 season, and he’s hooping like he wants to opted-out for a bigger deal this offseason. (SO DON’T PLAY THAT WELL, DAMNIT, JEREMY.)
Now, bruh, all we’ve gotta do is figure out how to fix that hair.