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TORONTO — You can make yourself crazy wondering about the vagaries of timing, about life’s if-onlys.
If only I’d left the house 30 seconds earlier, I never would have been ahead of that SOB who rear-ended my car ... If only I’d stayed home that night instead of getting dragged out of the house by my buddies, I never would have met my wife ... If only ...
The Jeremy Lin story takes if-only and elevates it to an art form. If only Golden State hadn’t gotten tangled up in the DeAndre Jordan sweepstakes, then Lin would have been able to showcase his wares for the Warriors’ new coach, a guy named Mark Jackson who knows a thing or two about playing underdog point guard in the NBA.
If only the Rockets knew what they had.
If only Toney Douglas hadn’t looked completely lost running the point for the Knicks in the early stages of this year … If only Iman Shumpert had shown even a tiny proclivity for the position … If only Baron Davis’ back really was the phantom injury a lot of cynics surmised it might be when he signed with the Knicks …
Then Jeremy Lin would be lighting up some other city, even if that city was Bakersfield or Tulsa or Sioux Falls or some such D-League outpost. And the Knicks might already be eliminated — from the public consciousness if not from the actual playoff race.
And Mike D’Antoni would be a fired coach walking.
Or just fired, period.
But none of those things happened, and all of these things happened, and 10 days ago with 3 minutes and 34 seconds left in the first quarter of a game against the Nets at the Garden, with the Knicks already trailing 22-16, D’Antoni summoned Lin from the bench, Lin snapped off his warm-ups …
And, well. You know the rest.
And here’s the craziest if-only of all: If only D’Antoni were employed by any of about 25 other franchises around the NBA — or by most of the other operations that own teams in New York City — Lin wouldn’t have been his player to summon.
The Knicks had every right and every opportunity to dump D’Antoni before that night. The city was infatuated with the Giants, so they would have had cover. The Knicks weren’t only dreadful — 8-15 at the moment Lin checked into the game for Shumpert that fateful night of Feb. 4 — but dysfunctional and awfully hard on the eyes. And easiest of all, D’Antoni had reached that sad point in the court of public opinion where most would have welcomed his dismissal and almost everyone else would have been ambivalent about it.
Yet D’Antoni’s bosses declined to do that. In truth, that’s been a regular feature of the Cablevision Garden, whether it’s loyalty or stubbornness to ensure fans and media don’t dictate policy. It took forever for Isiah Thomas to disappear, which aggrieved many; it’s starting to look a lot better that Glen Sather was given essentially a lifetime contract with the Rangers, despite so many howls of protest.
D’Antoni has never had a better week as coach of the Knicks, and not only because he’s 5-for-his-last-5 entering tonight’s game against the Raptors. The Knicks’ horrific point-guard play had helped some conveniently forget that for all his foibles as a coach, he is — in the great Jeremy Lin’s words — “a genius at coaching offense.”
We knew that because we saw what Chris Duhon and Raymond Felton did here — and what they’ve done elsewhere. Felton, whom some Knicks fans still confuse with Tiny Archibald when they want to disparage the Carmelo Anthony trade, has most of Portland begging for his benching, he’s been so bad.
So, yes: Starting tonight, when Amar’e Stoudemire returns from bereavement leave, extending to later in the week when Anthony returns, we will see D’Antoni take one final stab at proving he can do here what he did in Phoenix, seizing the revelation of a skilled point guard and pairing him with A-list talent.
And if he’s successful, it could lead to an interesting quandary:
We have seen, after all, what Lin can do in D’Antoni’s system. We are less certain of what he’d be in some other kind of offense.
One shaped like a triangle, for instance.