Big-game settings are nothing new to former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez. The intensity of the matchups with Duke and North Carolina during his years in College Park, as well as what he experienced as an NBA rookie last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, certainly prepared Vasquez well for what he encountered in New York on Friday night.
Now with the New Orleans Hornets, Vasquez met Linsanity -- and Knicks phenomenon Jeremy Lin -- head on.
Nobody is saying Vasquez was the reason the heretofore woeful but suddenly hot Hornets beat a Knicks team that had won seven straight games with Lin as its newfound star, but Vasquez certainly played his part. Along with a 15-point, 11-assist performance in his team’s 89-85 win at Madison Square Garden, Vasquez’s defense was a big factor in Lin’s nine turnovers -- the most by any player in the NBA this season.
The turnovers overshadowed Lin’s 26 points and continue to be the one blemish on the second-year point guard’s record-setting start to his Knicks career. But Vasquez wasn’t taking the credit. This was not a case of Lintimidation. (OK, I had to get one of those in there.)
“We just played great team defense; I wasn’t guarding him by myself,” Vasquez told reporters after the game. “Our team, as a team, did a great job. This is the NBA. The kid is good. I love his passion. And what I love about him is he’s so humble. He deserves everything he’s got right now and everything he’s going through.”
That’s the way I sort of feel about Vasquez. When he was a sophomore at Maryland, I mistook his passion for ego and thought he was playing for himself. As he matured into an NBA prospect and team leader -- and eventually became the school’s second-leading scorer in history, behind Juan Dixon -- I began to appreciate his skills and his passion.
Vasquez, who was a late first-round draft choice in Memphis, has certainly toned down his act since going to the NBA last season, but he is developing into a solid point guard. After playing behind Mike Conley Jr. last season, Vasquez was traded to the Hornets the day before the strike-shortened season began when the Grizzlies needed a forward to replace Zach Randolph. Vasquez was brought in to back up former Georgia Tech star Jarrett Jack.
For the first month, he was playing about 20 minutes a game and averaging about six points and three assists, but when Jack was injured last month, Vasquez took over a team in the midst of a horrendous season and played admirably. In the past nine games, he is averaging nearly 13 points and a little more than eight assists. He has three double doubles and missed two others by an assist.
The win over the Knicks was the third straight for the Hornets after the team had lost 23 of its past 25 games.
“It is special,” said Vasquez, who with Jack’s return Friday will likely return to his backup role. “I think Jeremy is a great player, but it’s more special because of what we’ve gone through as a team and what we’re doing right now. We care about each other so much. We kept fighting and will continue to fight, and coming here and getting this win means a lot. It kind of gives us an identity. You can see what type of team we are. We defend and play hard, no matter what. The city of New Orleans is supporting us, and we’re just going to continue to grow and get better.”