It seems the Charlotte Hornets & Steve Clifford are getting all the examples they need in order to determine Jeremy Lin is their best and most important player, in crunch time or earlier on. If before they didn’t know it, maybe his execution in the 95-93 win over the New York Knicks did the job.
Lin played only 21 minutes but finished with 17 points, eight of them coming in the fourth quarter, including two huge go ahead baskets before Cody Zeller hit the game winning layup as time almost expired (Kristaps Porzingis hit a three, but time ran out before he let the ball loose). Aside from a couple of weaker games, Lin has often been the difference between good and bad for the Hornets, who are starting to create a wrong kind of pattern, which is wait till the starting lineup has done enough damage before Lin and the second unit get on the floor to clean up the mess.
Kemba Walker was 2-of-11 from the field, Al Jefferson finished with 2-of-10 from the field. Nicolas Batum, getting minutes with the “right” players as well, led the team scoring 24 points on a good shooting night for a chance (10-of-18 from the field). But Batum, unlike Lin, can’t change the pace of a game or actually influence it through his performance. He had a good shooting game, but he wasn’t having a night filled with smart choices and creativity.
And it seems Clifford can’t figure it out, or refuses to. In the four wins the Hornets have this season, Lin was the engine behind them on three occasions. That, together with the work in preseason, should buy him more than 21 minutes. But through the first three quarters, Lin played just nine minutes. If anyone expects a player to pick up some kind of rhythm or consistency when he’s left in the cold like that, he has no idea what coaching is.
Lin was once again made the difference not just by making shots (this time not with stretched hands on his face but with right timing off of screens) but by being aggressive (on both ends), keeping the pace high and pushing to the basket every time. Whoever was guarding him couldn’t keep up with him, often forcing one of the big guys to help or Lin just making the shot over no one, because he blew by defenders quite easily time after time, or simply shaking them off with some nice footwork.
Jeremy Lamb scored 14 points in 24 minutes and Zeller, who wasn’t having a very good game overall until his game winner, added 12. Spencer Hawes played 19 minutes without doing much, but he was the one who got the assist to Zeller in the winning play, which means more time on the floor for him instead of Frank Kaminsky, playing less than he should with Clifford hiding behind some physicality excuse, instead of simply playing the better player right now.
And while Lin made the most in the last two games of getting far less than he should, the concerning pattern continues of Clifford sticking to his guns no matter how bad they are. Maybe it’s impossible to bench Walker without creating some sort of turmoil; let it be. Some guys need to see starts next to their game number on the box score. But it’s more and more mind boggling to see Lin doing so much with so little. At some point, ignoring the team’s most important player will backfire, and it might be too late then to try and wisen up.