In front of a sold-out Garden crowd that cheered Lin's every move and before a national television audience, the undrafted point guard from Harvard scored a career-high 38 points and led the Knicks to a stirring 92-85 win over the Lakers.
Lin outdueled Bryant in lifting the Knicks to their fourth straight win. Bryant usually owns the Garden, but his shot was off. He scored 34 points but shot 11-for-29.
Lin was nothing short of brilliant, shooting 13-for-23 and dishing out seven assists. He scored 11 points in the fourth, giving him 39 in the final quarter during the winning streak. He had at least 23 points and seven assists for the fourth straight game and is averaging 28.5 points and 8.0 assists in that span.
"You don't see many guys play like that in their 30th opportunity or their whole career,'' Mike D'Antoni said. "What he's doing is amazing. It's not often that a guy for four games plays the best in the league or as good as you're going to see, and over on the sideline, nobody knows who he is. That's hard to do.''
The Knicks are doing it with Carmelo Anthony in street clothes as he nurses a strained groin and Amar'e Stoudemire in Florida for his brother's funeral. Another strong team effort helped lift their record to 12-15.
Iman Shumpert scored 12 off the bench and guarded Bryant much of the game. Jared Jeffries (11 points, nine rebounds) and Tyson Chandler (nine points, 11 boards) led a strong defensive effort. The Knicks held All-Star center Andrew Bynum to three points and the Lakers to 37.5 percent shooting (30-for-80).
But it again was Lin's night, and again he tried to deflect the attention. "The only thing we established was getting four in a row," he said. "I'm not really worried right now about proving anything to anybody. As a team, we're growing and trying to build on this momentum. I think everyone is buying in right now, and that's what makes us dangerous."
Lin was responsible for the Knicks' first 16 points, scoring 10 and passing for three assists. In the fourth, Lin hit a long jumper from straightaway with Pau Gasol guarding him. Lin later put the Knicks up 10 with another deep jumper. On the next trip, he buried a three-pointer that made it 84-71 as the crowd erupted.
Lin wasn't done. He drove past Matt Barnes and around Gasol and hit a reverse that made it 88-80. Lin's two free throws gave the Knicks a 90-82 lead with 52.3 seconds left. "The level he's playing at, I've never seen anything like it," Jeffries said. And D'Antoni added, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
After the Lakers beat Boston Thursday, Bryant said he knew who Lin is but was unaware of what he had been doing. He was asked if he would consider guarding Lin and responded by saying, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves." Bryant spent some time on Lin, but the Lakers used several different players. There were times they tried to trap Lin to get the ball out of his hands.
The remarkable thing is that Lin was a Baron Davis elbow infection away from being cut and becoming a 10-day contract player. Had Davis not had a setback in his rehab from a herniated disc, Lin wouldn't have started Friday night and would have remained relatively unknown.
Although it's been only four games, D'Antoni said Lin deserves all the hype he's receiving. "It only took Rudy half a game," he said. "Not even half a game, two plays at the end, and they made a movie about him. He has proven that he has the ability to do this again."