In the end, Jeremy Lin's return wound up being an afterthought.
Oh, people were plenty fired up in the early part of the game to see Lin back at the Garden. He was greeted warmly by a Garden crowd that hasn't let this year's success erase the things Lin did to enliven things last year and then treated appropriately as a member of a team trying to take the win that the Knicks needed to stay undefeated at home.
And the Knicks pretty much let Lin, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets take it and anything else they wanted in a 109-96 win that wasn't nearly as close as the scoreboard made it seem. Lin played well, but the Knicks were so awful that even Toney Douglas looked like a competent basketball player on Monday night.
That lessened the impact of the Lin story and heightened the scrutiny of the Knicks' performance by the time the night was through. There was plenty to scrutinize, starting with the defense that broke down more often than a car running on Dr. Pepper instead of gasoline.
Easy backdoor layups, tentative help on drives into the middle by Tyson Chandler and slow rotations on outside shooters led to a 10-0 run in the second quarter and a 13-0 run in the third quarter that essentially decided the game. It was nothing like the work the Knicks were doing early in the season and the loss might have been a good thing because it hasn't been that way in quite a while.
They've slipped all the way to 17th in the league in defensive efficiency after a run of leaky nights in their own end, a big drop from where things were in the early going fueled by the kinds of things that went wrong on Monday night. This issue hasn't gotten much attention because the Knicks are still second in the NBA in offensive efficiency, but it was impossible to ignore on Monday with Carmelo Anthony out of the lineup.
The Knicks have had some pretty good success in their previous games without Anthony this year, but Monday night's offense was frightful outside of one J.R. Smith hot streak until Chris Copeland went nuts in garbage time. The offense looked a lot like last year with some fruitless, half-hearted offensive set leading to a quick, occasionally open shot that clanged off the iron.
If the threes aren't falling (and they weren't Monday), the Knicks offense bogs down into a lot of Smith and Raymond Felton stuff and it isn't a look they wear well. So it is with some excitement that we relay word that Amar'e Stoudemire will start practice on Tuesday.
Evaluations will be made over the rest of the week, but he could make his season debut on Friday or Sunday and then be with the team on Christmas in Los Angeles. It wouldn't be a moment too soon.
There's been much hand-wringing about how bringing Stoudemire back might impact the chemistry of the team, but it is pretty clear that there's a real need for a non-Melo scoring option on this team. Putting Stoudemire on the second unit with Smith to provide scoring is a no-brainer, even with the defensive disinterest he brings to the table.
Mike Woodson had to realize that while watching another bad shot lead to a long Houston rebound and breakout pass for an easy bucket. Making a few baskets would have limited the damage the Rockets were doing and Stoudemire would have been a big help in that pursuit on a night when the Knicks needed someone to rally around on offense.
The return of Linsanity got all the attention, but the return of Amar'e is going to prove much more meaningful in the long run.