HOUSTON -- Flash back to last season. Jeremy Lin's coming-out party actually came against the very guy who was guarding him for the opening portion of Saturday night's 119-106 loss to the Rockets at Toyota Center: Deron Williams.
Linsanity was born after he came off the bench and torched Williams and the Nets for 25 points and seven assists on Feb. 4, 2012, the first in a string of six straight games in which he topped 20 points and captivated the nation.
When they met again Feb. 20, though, Williams was ready. Bothered by the fans attacking him on Twitter as Lin's first victim that led to the national craze, Williams really took it to Lin, playing one of his best games in Nets garb. He burned Lin for 38 points and six assists and was unconscious from three-point range, burying 8 of 14 from beyond the arc in a 100-92 Nets win.
But Lin's team had the upper hand Saturday night, even if Williams got the best of him early before his frustration bubbled over with 1:07 left. He was ejected after receiving two technicals from David Jones after barking at him following a foul call.
"The referee said he said something to him," said P.J. Carlesimo, now 12-4 as the Nets' interim coach, "and threw him out." Williams refused comment.
Williams, who suffered a quadriceps contusion a night earlier in Memphis, went at Lin from the opening tip, scoring the Nets' first nine points and leading Rockets coach Kevin McHale to switch things up defensively. Still, Williams finished the first quarter with 20 points, going 7-for-7 from the field and knocking down all three shots from beyond the arc.
"We put some different guys on him," McHale said. "Three of those shots, nine points of those shots were like, 'Shake his hand.' I figured he couldn't keep making those and if he did, we weren't going to have much of a chance to win anyway."
Williams had 27 points and 11 assists, but the Rockets had double-digit leads throughout most of the game. Said Lin, "We just tried to make it difficult and we had extra guys coming in to protect on when he would drive. We just tried to load in really fast, the same way other teams try to load for James [Harden].''
Lin had only four points at halftime but ended up with 14 points, nine assists and six turnovers, coming up with eight big points and three assists in the final quarter. Lin also drew a key charge on C.J. Watson with 6:09 left and the Nets within 105-95.
Lin, who signed a three-year, $25.1-million offer sheet the Knicks declined to match, is having some growing pains in his first season with Houston. He came in averaging 12 points, six assists and three turnovers. His weaknesses no longer are a secret, and that was evident when McHale benched him along with James Harden in their Jan. 19 loss against the Timberwolves.
McHale had Lin firmly glued to the bench for the entire fourth quarter two nights later in Charlotte for the same precise reason: atrocious defense. He kept giving Kemba Walker too much room, constantly backing off, and Walker lit him up.
"He's a young kid," McHale said of Lin before Saturday night's game. "In anybody's career, you spend time playing in the ceiling and playing on the floor, where in reality, you are at somewhere in between there. Everybody saw him playing on the ceiling, and that's not realistic. That followed him a little bit too much."
McHale knows a thing or two about this league, given that he won three championships in the 1980s with the Celtics, and he seems confident Lin will get past his struggles.
"He's no different than any of our guys," McHale said. "We are the youngest team in the league. We average less than two years' experience on our team and he fits right in there with those guys.
"It's nothing I haven't seen for 30-plus years in the NBA. Young guys are inconsistent, young guys are finding out their game. You do something well for two or three games, they take it away from you. Then you have to go to Plan B."
"It's a constant work and that's why veteran guys just come out and play the game a lot easier. They took this away, I go to that. They took that way, I go to this. You have all your counters built in. Right now, they are trying to figure out some of their counters, but he's been doing great."