Jeremy Lin's playoff action has left just about everything to be desired.
The Linsanity era with the New York Knicks last season did not extend into the postseason because of a meniscus injury to Lin, so the popular—and polarizing—point guard is now getting his first playoff run in a Houston Rockets uniform.
Houston had to be hoping Lin's postseason performance would be an extension of his late regular-season play.
In April, James Harden and Lin looked as synced as they'd been all season. Only twice did the Rockets score fewer than 110 points in that month as Lin averaged 17.3 points and 6.9 assists.
Through two games in the Rockets' playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder (small sample size alert, but still), Lin has fallen far short of those expectations. He has been inconsistent on offense and overmatched on defense. After suffering a chest contusion in Game 2, it's no longer certain that he's Houston's best bet at the point.
Breaking down Lin's play won't be pretty, but looking at what has gone wrong offers hints as to how the Rockets will right it.
Let's just start with the stats—they get across most of the ugliness before we even get to the visual aids.
In 26 minutes per game, Lin has averaged 5.5 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 turnovers. He has shot a hair under 29 percent from the field and he has gotten to the foul line just twice. That's 52 minutes of just miserable basketball.
This is more than a matter of Russell Westbrook making his life a living hell with his athleticism. Westbrook did hound him into a number of untenable situations, but Lin made his life more difficult with questionable decision-making and general ineffectiveness.
OK, onto some video evidence, in all its ingloriousness:
So that was rough. These lowlights from Game 1 reveal a player utterly without rhythm playing the type of self-conscious ball that leaves him a step slow and without nearly as many options.
Multiple times in Game 1, Lin received a pass, stared down a defender for a beat, then either took a hesitant three-pointer or settled for a long two. He seemed hesitant to drive against the quicker Westbrook, which limited his free-throw attempts and his kick-out opportunities.
That's devastating for the Houston offense, which needs Lin to get into the teeth of the defense even when he's not putting up points. The Rockets rely on their guards to collapse the defense and create openings for their shooters when they are spotting up.
So how did the Rockets do from beyond the arc in Game 1? Discounting Lin's one basket and three misses, they hit just seven of 32 attempts. Yuck. Lin's game may have been off, but his passivity was the real killer.
Game 2 was not much better, but there were extenuating circumstances surrounding that. Don't worry, we'll get to it.
This mark might seem a little bit generous, which in and of itself is pretty sad.
Keep in mind that this grade is taking into account that Lin is roughly a "C" defender on a normal day. Even though he allowed Westbrook 19 points and 10 assists in the series opener (again, it was only Game 2), the defensive performance Lin put forth was not considerably worse than usual.
After all, this is Russell Westbrook we're talking about.
Just look at this:
Whenever Lin had to man up on Westbrook, the Thunder star abused him every way he could.
He caught Lin flat-footed and crossed him up. He got a full head of steam and either ran right by Lin or forced him into a futile backpedal that took him out of the action. He met Lin on the block and used his strength to bully his way into the lane.
However, this was more a matter of Westbrook being a force of nature than his defender being abjectly terrible. Lin wasn't getting caught out of position an unusual amount of times or making ill-advised gambles for turnovers. He tried to stay in front of Westbrook, and not surprisingly, he couldn't do it.
There's still nothing resembling honor in that, but Lin does deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Even so, if below-average defense is Lin's strongest point in a game, something has gone horribly wrong for him and the Rockets.
That said, there is a dark yet unavoidable silver lining in this series for Houston—injury luck.
We're not just talking about Westbrook's torn meniscus here—an injury that changes the complexion of this series and of the entire postseason. The chest contusion Lin suffered in Game 2 could also make things simpler for the Rockets.
Two things happen in this video—Lin injures himself when he collides with Thabo Sefalosha, and Patrick Beverley fights for a basket inside at the other end.
Beverley was poised to outplay Lin in Game 2 even before that play. With more playing time freed up, Houston's second point guard put up 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes of run.
Beverley was also physically better equipped to keep up with Westbrook on the defensive end. Without passing judgment on whether Beverley meant to injure Westbrook—he told reporters he did not intend to do so—the OKC star shot just 10-of-26 in Game 2 with Beverley as his primary defender.
Lin is currently listed as day-to-day, and he would likely have better luck against Reggie Jackson if, or when, he returns to this series. The injury does give Houston an excuse to lean on Beverley more heavily in the coming games, though.
After such disappointing results in his first postseason appearances, Lin may be in danger of seeing his playing time slip in favor of the hot hand.
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