It's tempting to read a lot into this game, even when you strip away the Linsanity storyline that Paul Flannery covered so well. Just from a basketball standpoint, Jeremy Lin had one of his best games after struggling to fit in with James Harden all season. As Tom Haberstroh noted for ESPN Insider Monday, Lin has essentially played like he did last year with Harden on the bench, but has been well below average with Harden on the floor. But in this game, Lin scored 22 points, Harden did his thing and the Rockets routed the best team in the East.
So, is this issue resolved? Hardly. Re-watching the game, the biggest issue was that the Knicks' defense on Lin was awful. Tyson Chandler, normally pristine in his defensive execution, was just late too often.
For example, Lin got two easy layups off pick and roll in the first half because Chandler didn't do his job. On the first play, Chandler didn't do enough to prevent Lin from turning the corner on a side pick and roll, leading to an easy layup.
Chandler usually swallows those plays up, but for some reason, he didn't that time. Later, there was this stunning breakdown.
This coverage is pretty simple. Lin and Greg Smith are running a pick and roll, and unless Smith suddenly dives down the lane, he's not a threat. It should be pretty easy for Chandler to slide his feet and cut off Lin's driving lane. Instead...
These breakdowns were really uncharacteristic. Toss in all those transition points Lin got due to bad Knicks defense, and I'm not sure the Rockets did anything special to get Lin going. The issue of maximizing Lin's game while playing him with Harden remains.
At the same time, we should all remember that this is a process. The Rockets got Harden right before the season, after training camp ended. Then, coach Kevin McHale was away from the team dealing with the tragedy of his daughter's death. There's clearly been a lot of upheaval, and Lin and Harden haven't received a lot of practice time with their head coach learning how to play together. Expecting things to work perfectly right away is unrealistic.
So, the learning goes on. For one night, things worked out fine because the Knicks submitted a horrendous defensive performance.
Thunder 107, Spurs 93
The rise of Serge Ibaka has been the key to the Thunder's 20-4 start, and the Spurs finally got to experience that firsthand. Ibaka absolutely dominated the small San Antonio frontcourt with 25 points and 17 rebounds, and it was his activity that put this thing away in the third quarter. Ibaka is still getting most of his points on pick-and-pop jumpers, pick-and-roll dunks and offensive rebounds, but he's become lethal with his shot, faster in his dives and more aggressive reading the carom of the ball off the rim.
In this game specifically, the Spurs devoted so much of their pick and roll coverage to containing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, leaving Ibaka open on pick and rolls. Here are some examples of plays Ibaka finished off with jumpers or layups.
The Spurs, knowing they had to give something up, decided they could live with Ibaka coming off these pick and rolls. It's a decision that teams used to be able to make to slow the Thunder down. No longer. Ibaka made them pay all game, and he'll make any team that defends like the Spurs pay all season. It's time for teams to go back to the drawing board.
An ugly game befitting of these two teams. Memphis won because they were slightly less inept offensively.
Jacque Vaughn is a phenomenal coach. As Timberwolves' color commentator Jim Peterson -- the best in the local business -- noted, the Magic were getting killed by any set the Timberwolves began with a big man in the high post at the elbow in the first half. In the second half, Vaughn had his team apply more ball pressure to that big man, and the Timberwolves' offense crumbled. That adjustment won Orlando the game.
Nothing really to note, except that Blake Griffin shockingly trolls for highlights late in games. Who knew?