The sensation he caused when he came out of nowhere to add instant spark to the New York Knicks during the 2011-12 NBA season was dubbed Linsanity.
The Toronto Raptors are now hoping that Jeremy Lin can conjure some of that magic again and help lead them to playoff glory.
Desperately in need of backcourt ballast, the Raptors quickly signed Lin late Wednesday afternoon after the 30-year-old had his contract bought out by the Atlanta Hawks and then cleared waivers.
A couple of hours later, he made his Raptors debut as the backup point guard to Kyle Lowry for Toronto’s game against the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena.
Lin is used to new beginnings. His stop in Toronto marks the eighth team he has played for over nine NBA seasons.
After a disjointed opening half, the Raptors finally got their act together and, led by a career-high 44 points by whirling-dervish big man Pascal Siakam, were able to subdue the Wizards 129-120, Toronto’s sixth consecutive victory. Siakam also contributed 10 rebounds.
OG Anunoby was also a bright spot for the Raptors, contributing 22 points, also a career best.
The Raptors trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter – 80-68 with just under nine minutes left after a fast-break dunk by Thomas Bryant.
That seemed to light a fire under the behind of Lowry, who helped engineer a big comeback, eventually hitting a three-ball that lifted Toronto back in front 81-80.
Lowry then threaded a great running bounce pass to Danny Green in full stride with Green making a nice finish at the basket and Toronto would go on to secure a 103-93 for the fourth quarter.
Washington kept things tight in the fourth but a late flurry ignited by another three from Lowry, who finished with 14 points and 13 assists, sank the hopes of the Wizards. A sky-scraping three by Green with just under two minutes left was the icing on the cake.
A native of Torrance, Calif., Lin became the first U.S.-born American of Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, signing as an undrafted free agent with Golden State in 2010 after attending Harvard University.
He was claimed off waivers by the Knicks during the condensed 2011-12 season and suddenly emerged as a household name worldwide after he became the first player in NBA history to record at least 20 points and seven assists in his first five starts.
He wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Raptors fans will recall how he capped that run off with 27 points and 11 assists and making the game-winning basket in a stomach-churning outing in Toronto exactly seven years ago today.
After leading the Knicks into the playoffs, Lin’s career plateaued, but he has always been considered a capable point guard. He joins the Raptors after averaging 10.7 points, 3.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 51 games with Atlanta.
“I’m excited to see him,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “I think he’s improved, I think he continues to play like a more experienced player. He’s good with the ball, shooting’s improved.
“I think he’s tougher than he looks, maybe – fights, compete, good IQ. All those things. So let’s see what he looks like in a Raptors jersey.”
When he checked into the game for the first time, with a little more than four minutes left in the first quarter, Lin received a warm welcome from the capacity gathering.
All things considered, Lin did not look out of place in his new surroundings, finishing with eight points, five assists and five rebounds.
The timing of his arrival is crucial after the Raptors revealed on Wednesday that backup point guard Fred VanVleet has had surgery to repair ligament damage to his left thumb.
The club initially felt that surgery would not be required and that VanVleet might be lost for just three weeks. That timetable now seems optimistic at best.
The Raptors played Washington without the services of star forward Kawhi Leonard, sitting for the second time in the past six games with a sore left knee.
The game was Toronto’s final outing before going on an extended break because of this weekend’s all-star game celebrations in Charlotte. The Raptors’ next game is Feb. 22 at home against DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs.
You would think that Leonard and his knee would benefit from the long layoff but for the fact that he has been chosen to play in the all-star game on Sunday, along with Lowry.
But even with his questionable knee, Nurse said he in no way wanted his best player to skip the all-star festivities. “It’s a heck of a showcase for a guy,” Nurse said.