NEW YORK — Jeremy Lin keeps getting better. Better even than Kobe Bryant on Friday night.
Lin had the most astounding performance of his remarkable week, scoring a career-high 38 points and outdueling Bryant as the New York Knicks held off the Los Angeles Lakers 92-85.
Buried deep on the bench a little more than a week ago, Lin led the Knicks to their fourth straight win, tying their longest streak of the season. His two free throws with 52 seconds left and some booming "MVP! MVP!" chants stopped the Lakers' final rally and allowed the undrafted Harvard product to pass Carmelo Anthony for the highest-scoring game by a Knicks player this season.
Iman Shumpert added 12 points for the Knicks, who are still without Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. But they have Lin, the point guard that two other teams gave up on in December and didn't get his chance in New York until three other players couldn't do the job.
Bryant finished with 34 points, but he got off to a horrendous start and finished only 11 of 29 from the field. Pau Gasol had 16 points and 10 rebounds, but All-Star Andrew Bynum was only 1 of 8 for three points with 13 rebounds as the Lakers' nine-game winning streak against the Knicks was snapped.
Five of those wins had come at Madison Square Garden, where fans used to roar for Bryant.
They've got a new favorite now, and who could have ever predicted it'd be Lin?
The most surprising story in the NBA came back into the game with 9:25 left after the Knicks' lead had been trimmed to three. Shumpert hit a jumper and blew by Bryant for a dunk before Lin knocked down a jumper to push the lead to 76-69 with about 8 minutes left.
The lead was still eight before Lin nailed a long jumper, then was wide open after an offensive rebound for a 3-pointer from the wing, making it 84-71 as fans stood and screamed throughout the Lakers' timeout.
Lin followed his 28-point, eight-assist outing Monday in his first career start by scoring 23 points and handing out 10 assists Wednesday against Washington, becoming the first player since LeBron James in 2003 and just the sixth since 1970 to have at least 20 points and eight assists in his first two starts, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau provided by the Knicks.
He became an instant star in New York just as fans were ready to check out basketball after the Giants' Super Bowl run was over, and just when it appeared the Knicks might fall too far behind in the standings to salvage the season.
Some Lin shirts were scattered throughout Madison Square Garden – though Spike Lee was still wearing Landry Fields' No. 2 in his courtside seat. Ratings on MSG network are up since Lin joined the lineup, and the NBA said some of its Asian TV partners have added Knicks games to their broadcast schedules so fans can see the league's first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.
Already drawing comparisons to Tim Tebow for his impact on teammates and the way he speaks of his faith afterward, the hype around him will only grow now after beating one of the league's marquee franchises in his first nationally televised game.
A night after needing overtime to win at Boston, the Lakers had nothing to start the game, and Lin quickly jumped on them. He started 4 of 5 as the Knicks raced to a 13-4 lead, and it grew to 19-8 as Los Angeles missed 12 of its first 13 shots.
Lin's four field goals in the first quarter matched the Lakers' total in 18 attempts (22 percent).
The Lakers cut a 14-point deficit to five late in the half before Lin put the Knicks back in control. He had a turnaround jumper then spun around to leave Derek Fisher behind on his way to a layup, pushing it to 47-38 with 2:44 remaining. It was 49-41 at halftime.
Bryant started 1 of 11 before hitting five of his next six shots. The record holder at the current arena with 61 points, he also grabbed 10 rebounds but got going far too late.
Notes: The Knicks had two points taken off the board in the third quarter when the referees ruled a foul earlier in the period on Metta World Peace shouldn't have counted against the Lakers' team foul total, so the Knicks shouldn't have been in the bonus and shot free throws yet on a later foul. ... Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said Anthony told him he was feeling better and walking without pain. The All-Star forward is expected to be re-evaluated Sunday, but D'Antoni said he doubted Anthony would play Tuesday at Toronto. The Knicks said Anthony was expected to miss a week or two after he was hurt Monday. ... Stoudemire, whose brother died in Florida on Monday, is expected to rejoin the team at practice Monday. ... Fisher made his 400th consecutive start. He has played in 522 straight games, the longest active streak in the league. ... Celebrities on hand included actor Ben Stiller, wrestler and actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Giants Justin Tuck, Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks and Antrel Rolle.
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