Lin comes up just short in strong return
Nets Drop Nail-Biter in Houston Despite Point Guard’s Solid Showing
Jeremy Lin couldn’t quite put the finishing touches on his inspiring return Monday night from a hamstring injury that kept him out of action for the previous five weeks.
Despite scoring 10 points, handing out seven assists and registering a plus-17 rating in 20 scintillating minutes off the bench, Lin missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds to play, leaving the struggling Nets to endure a 122-118 loss to the red-hot Houston Rockets in front of 13,619 fans at the Toyota Center.
Lin, who was Brooklyn’s biggest offseason acquisition, landing a three-year, $36 million deal to “quarterback” new head coach Kenny Atkinson’s motion offense, hadn’t stepped foot on an NBA court since Nov. 2, when he suffered a left-hamstring strain against Detroit at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
He watched as the Nets 4-13 in his absence before checking in late in the first quarter against the Rockets, a team he played for from 2012-14.
The 28-year-old point man finished 4-of-8 from the floor, including 1-of-3 on 3-point attempts, grabbed three rebounds, blocked a shot, picked up a steal and committed one turnover while helping Brooklyn overcome a 15-point first-half deficit.
“I felt a lot better than I thought I would with my wind,” Lin said following the Nets’ fifth loss in six December games. “But I struggled with the rhythm.”
Everything appeared to be working in perfect harmony for Brooklyn when Lin found himself wide open at the top of the 3-point arc with 18 ticks remaining. He hoisted up a shot that would have given the Nets a 121-119 lead, but the ball clanged harmlessly off the front of the rim and Brooklyn never came close to scoring again.
“The shots, the feel and getting back out there … you practice all these shots, but I got in there and it felt like I was shooting a football,” Lin humbly admitted.
First-year head coach Kenny Atkinson, ever-optimistic that the Nets (6-17) are headed toward brighter days, was happy to have Lin back on the floor after scrambling to fill the point guard slot with as many as six different players over the past five weeks.
“I was really thrilled,” Atkinson said. “You usually expect a guy to be a little rusty, but I didn’t see that. He had great energy and played with great poise.”
Brook Lopez scored a team-high 26 points, but pulled down only one rebound as the Nets fell to a dismal 1-10 on the road this season despite putting up a season-best 42 points during a furious third-quarter comeback.
“I need to be more aggressive getting to the glass,” Lopez ceded after nearly failing to grab a board in a full contest for the first time in nearly five years.
James Harden put up 36 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists for the Rockets, who won their seventh game in a row.
Brooklyn completed its fruitless Texas Two-Step trip, having dropped an embarrassing 130-101 decision in San Antonio on Saturday night.
“It could have gone either way,” Atkinson said. “My takeaway is I’m happy we bounced back — not happy with the loss, obviously — but we had a chance and happy with the way we bounced back after the loss to San Antonio.”
Lin and the Nets will try to bounce their way back into the win column Wednesday night here against the Los Angeles Lakers, a team they lost to, 125-118, at Staples Center back on Nov. 15.
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On the local college hoops beat, the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds appear poised to vie for a Northeast Conference title this season, especially following Sunday afternoon’s 74-73 upset of St. John’s at the Barclays Center.
Senior Iverson Fleming finished with 21 points, including a go-ahead jumper with 26 seconds remaining, to help LIU improve to 7-3 in non-conference play.
“It’s a mindset and our coach preaches to us to have ‘the will to win,'” Fleming said. “That’s what I try to do every day I step on the court: Have a will to win, and to help my teammates as best as I can. At that point in time, I was just trying to be aggressive and get the best shot possible, and it fell.”
The Blackbirds, who haven’t played a game at the Steinberg Wellness Center since their season-opening win over John Jay College on Nov. 11, will head back out on the road Wednesday to take on the University of Minnesota.
LIU head coach Jack Perri, who guided the Blackbirds to the last of their three straight NEC crowns from 2011-13, has high aspirations for this senior-driven group.
“It definitely puts us in a place we want to be. I’m trying to get these guys to understand that this is their last chance to create a legacy for themselves,” Perri noted.
“It’s been a while since we went to the NCAA tournament, and these guys have a chance to do something special if they really focus and appreciate every single day, and a game like this, obviously, you feel some gratification from it.”
Gunnar Olafsson and Rasheem Dunn both established career-highs with 22 and 21 points, respectively, but St. Francis Brooklyn suffered a 91-81 setback at Canisius College in Buffalo on Saturday.
Olafsson went 7-of-11 from the floor, including a sizzling 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. The junior swingman from Iceland got plenty of help from Dunn, a first-year guard from Brooklyn’s Jefferson High School who went 7-of-12 from the field.
SFC dropped to 2-8 on the season entering Saturday’s visit to Albany.
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