HOUSTON — It’s becoming a habit. For the second time in four games, Jeremy Lin spent the decisive minutes on the bench.
Talk about your Linsanity.
First he watched Toney Douglas try to stem the tide against Damian Lillard during overtime of a loss at Portland. Then at home on Wednesday night, Lin simply watched all but two minutes of the fourth quarter as Douglas lifted the Rockets to a 93-89 win over the Bulls.
“I’m happy because we lost three in a row and needed a win. That’s for sure,” Lin said.
Team camaraderie aside, the Rockets need their point guard of the present and future to be able to stay on the floor to run the offense down the stretch. But to do that he’s going to have to make significant defensive strides.
When the Blazers were making their comeback in the fourth quarter last week, Lillard drove around and shot over Lin as if he wasn’t there. At the start of the final period against the Bulls, it was Nate Robinson who got on a roll and devoured Lin. Acting Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson watched Robinson stick a 3-pointer in Lin’s face and then drove for a dazzling 360-degree layup when he had enough and turned to Douglas.
On one hand, it was Nate being Nate, taking off on one of those sprees that has occasionally made him a marvel in the league. On the other, it was Lin being Lin, bedeviled and bewildered defensively.
“You have to go with your instincts,” Sampson said. “You’re not always right with that stuff. But I felt like Toney gave us our best chance to win. Yeah, a much better matchup with Nate.”
Lin’s troubles putting the ball into the basket this season have been well known. He shot just 2-for-9 from the field against the Bulls and is now 42-for-126 (33.3 percent) on the season.
It’s one thing to try to straighten out a wayward shot. That’s an individual thing. But if he has to constantly be replaced for a capable stopper on defense, then he’s not going to be on the floor to play quarterback on offense and isn’t helping at either end of the floor at crunch time. The Rockets need a guy they invested $25 million in to be more than a part-time player and a late-game spectator.
“Yeah, I think that’s for reasons of defense,” Lin said. “I’m not really sure. Ask Coach. But I think it’s a defensive thing. I didn’t do a very good job of making Nate Robinson uncomfortable. I’ve got to do a better job.”