Long before Linsanity took off, Jeremy Lin was alone with his trainer in a 24-Hour Fitness in Pleasanton, Calif. He was working on a lot of things -- balance, upper-body strength to absorb contact and still finish the play, and most impressively, his jump shot.
"I'd like to see him use that jumper a little more," his personal trainer, E.J. Costello, was saying on the phone earlier Tuesday. "He can drive to the hoop and kick, but he’s got a good jumper and I’d like to see him use it."
Costello, who spent a couple of hours a day with Lin, four days a week from May through September in the Bay Area during the lockout, got his wish Tuesday night.
Despite eight turnovers from Lin, despite trailing by as many as 17 points, the Knicks and their fearless point-guard savior would not go away. Lin took the advice of his strength coach on the final possession in Toronto, confidently stepping into a game-winning 3-point shot with 0.5 seconds left to give the Knicks their sixth straight victory, 90-87 over the Raptors.
"It was a good shot for me," Lin said.
The way things are going for him now -- 5-0 as a starter, and 6-0 if you count his 27-point debut off the bench 10 days ago against the Nets -- any shot is a good shot. Nearly every play results in the right decision.
Not always the best result, but almost always. And nobody is quibbling with the historic results.
"I'm just glad it went like this so we can calm the Linsanity down a little bit," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters in Toronto, his postgame comments beamed back to New York on the Madison Square Garden Networks.
"He held it til five-tenths of a second left," D'Antoni said. "He was confident that shot was going in, no rebound or nothing. That thing was getting buried."
Yes it was, just like the hundreds of jumpers a day Lin was taking in the gym with Costello during the lockout.
"He’s money when it comes to shooting," Costello said. "And he just has to carry that onto the court."
After leading the Knicks to victories in his first four starts, being named Eastern Conference player of the week and becoming the first player in NBA history to total at least 20 points and seven assists in his first four starts, Lin did it again Tuesday night. He had 27 points (9-for-20 shooting), 11 assists and yes, eight turnovers. He was torched defensively by Jose Calderon and Leandro Barbosa at times in the game, and later said, "That's on me."
He passed one test, getting superstar Amar'e Stoudemire back Tuesday night and still winning despite an off-night from Stoudemire -- understandable, considering his absence due to the loss of his brother. Carmelo Anthony, the other star whose game may or may not fit with the way the Knicks are playing under Lin's leadership, will be back later in the week.
Of teammate Iman Shumpert, who slowed Calderon down in the fourth and made Lin's game-winner possible when he stole the ball from Calderon and drove for a run-out dunk that cut the Raptors' lead to 87-84 with 1:28 left, Lin said, "He just bailed me out tonight."
The way Lin has bailed the Knicks out of what had been a dismal season that saw them lose 11 of 13 on their way to an 8-15 record before Linsanity began. The Knicks (14-15) can climb back to .500 Wednesday night in New York against the Kings as they start a five-game homestand that promises to be the most electrifying in at least a decade.
"I don't know when there's an ending," D'Antoni said. "Maybe there won't [be]."
As the basketball world tries to digest and comprehend Lin's improbably sudden rise to stardom, you could see Tuesday night two of the key aspects of his game that he worked so hard on during the summer and early fall. After Shumpert's steal and dunk, Lin drove the lane, absorbed contact and converted the basket and three-point play to tie the score at 87-87 with 1:05 left. As Costello has watched from afar as Lin has made plays like this during the six-game winning streak, he couldn't help but think back to those long days at the gym when they worked so hard to make him strong enough to absorb contact and finish plays.
"He uses his body really well," Costello said. "His upper body has gotten so much better and stronger, and his ability to control his body really speaks to what we did in the offseason. We killed his upper body. You can see a massive bruise on his right arm, and I talked to him and he said, 'My body is beat up right now.' But as he gets in shape, he’s only going to get better."
OK. Who's going to dispute that now?
In the postgame news conference, Lin was asked, "Can you believe this is happening to you?"
"No," he said. "But I believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God who does miracles."