Wednesday's 106-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers was arguably the best win of the season for the Charlotte Hornets. Cleveland held the best record in the Eastern Conference, and the Hornets hadn't beat Lebron James in six years. That streak looked likely to continue with Kemba Walker out, but Jeremy Lin stepped up as the starting point guard, finishing with 24 points and eight assists.
Lin is best when playing point guard -- this isn't news to anyone who is remotely familiar with him. Walker's career year, along with injuries at the shooting guard position, has seen Lin play more off the ball, where he has been less consistent. Nagging injuries haven't helped Lin either. Ultimately though, Lin is a point guard first, so when he was set to fill in as the starting point guard, it meant a good performance from him could help the Hornets get the upset.
That proved to be the case. Lin's strong second half helped him finish as the team's leading scorer, but his eight assists may have been just as important. A closer look reveals the ways Lin made plays for others with the ball:
Lin created a number of open shots by drawing defenders to him. Much of this comes through the offense, but Lin read his defenders well, and found the open man.
On this play, Cody Zeller comes to set a screen. Lin doesn't quite use it, but Kevin Love commits to help anyways. As Zeller rolls to the basket, Tristan Thompson comes to help, which leaves Marvin Williams open in the corner. Lin recognizes the defense has collapsed, and finds Williams for the open 3-pointer. It's not the cleanest pass, but Williams knocks it down anyways.
Here's another screen-and-roll situation, where Lin finds Batum for an open jumper:
Batum and Williams flash up in a horns set, with Williams setting the screen, and Batum cutting to the short corner. Lin does a great job of getting around a hedging Love, which forces J.R. Smith to help, leaving Batum open. In both plays, it was Lin's ability to drive off the pick-and-roll that forced multiple defenders to commit to him. Because Lin is good at finishing at the rim, defenses have to help, which then opens up shots for players on the perimeter.
Next, we look at an out of bounds play:
Here Zeller sets a screen for Lin to get open, and immediately sets another before rolling to the rim. Lin doesn't drive straight to the basket, but instead threatens to do so. Love does a solid job of getting in Lin's way, but the open shot comes because both Tristan Thompson and James sag in to protect the paint. When James over commits, the space opens up to cross the ball over to Williams in the corner. Again though, the attention to Lin draws the defenders in.
Finally, we look at Lin finding Zeller on the fastbreak:
Three things make this play happen. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum both act as decoys running down the sides of the court. James has his attention drawn on MKG, while Smith is focusing on Batum. Secondly, Zeller gets ahead of Love and Thompson on the break. Love isn't committed to getting back in transition, and while Thompson recognizes the threat of Zeller, he's too far back to catch up. Lin does a good job of freezing the defenders with his eyes, who are focusing on MKG. Once he sees Zeller is open, he times the pass perfectly and finds Zeller open.
These are all just a few of the ways Lin helped initiate the offense Wednesday night. It was one of Lin's strongest of the season, and it came at a crucial point in the season.