NEW YORK (Reuters) - “Linsanity” reigned at Madison Square Garden for another night on Friday as blossoming point guard Jeremy Lin outdueled Kobe Bryant to lead the New York Knicks to a fourth consecutive win with a 92-85 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lin, an overlooked 23-year-old who had been cut by two other teams earlier this season, led New York with a career-high 38 points and seven assists, while rookie Iman Shumpert was the next highest scorer for the Knicks with 12 points.
“Thirty-eight points. I was shocked,” New York coach Mike D‘Antoni told reporters. “Because it came easily and within the context of team basketball. I was shocked to see how many points he had.”
The Lakers, looking as though they were feeling the effects of back-to-back games after beating the Celtics in overtime in Boston on Thursday, shot a poor 37.5 percent from the floor as they fell to 15-12.
“We didn’t have the energy to play well. We were very lethargic,” said a despondent Bryant. “I wasn’t aggressive in the first half, I was stuck in the mud.”
Bryant, who scored only 10 points in the first half, heated up after the intermission to pace the Lakers with 34 points. Spaniard Pau Gasol added 16 points for Los Angeles.
Spurred on by the dazzling performance of Lin, the NBA’s first Taiwanese-American player, the Knicks led by as many as 14 points in the second quarter, 12 points in the third and 13 in the fourth at 86-73 before a late fight-back by the Lakers brought them within six at 88-82.
Lin put on one last burst with a reverse layup and a pair of free throws and drew a charge against Matt Barnes to help ice the victory and improve New York to 12-15 for the season.
The former Harvard player has been an overnight sensation and his No. 17 jersey was quickly sold out after finally being made available at concession stands at Madison Square Garden.
Against the Lakers, he shot 13-of-23 from the floor including 2-of-4 from three-point range. His drives to the hoop netted him 13 free throws, of which he made 10.
“I don’t remember anybody getting to the rim for that many layups against us without another body being there,” said Lakers coach Mike Brown.
“You have to give him credit. He played a terrific ball game. He was the difference in the ball game.”
Lin shunned the praise directed at him and credited coach D‘Antoni after another win without the team’s top two players - the injured Carmelo Anthony and Amar‘e Stoudemire, who is absent on bereavement leave.
“Coach D‘Antoni is an absolute offensive genius,” said Lin, whose 38 points represented half his season total from 29 games last year for Golden State. “He makes us look good.”
D‘Antoni said he continued to be amazed by Lin, who has scored 25, 28, 23 and now 38 points in the first four starts.
“You don’t see many guys play like that ... in their whole career,” the Knicks coach said.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I have never seen this. It is not often that a guy is going to play four games, the best you are going to see, and nobody knows who he is.”
Bryant, a 13-times All Star, also saluted Lin.
“He played extremely well,” said Bryant, a five-times NBA champion and twice NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
”He has been phenomenal. We watched some tape on him. We came up with a strategy that we thought would be effective but he was knocking down his jump shot, penetrating, and he got around our guards.
“It is a great story. It is a testament to perseverance and hard work. It is a good example to kids everywhere.”
Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Patrick Johnston