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Why didn’t Lin get a chance earlier?

by Peter Vecsey

There they were in Boston on Friday night with an actual chance to silence the wolves, the lambs and the vultures and what did the Knicks do? Croaked from second-hand choke.

Up a dozen against the recently exhumed Celtics, they were hosing their hosts in the third quarter (7:15 left), until the Knicks reverting to playing like the Knicks:

No movement, slurred shot selection (0-for-10 from the great divide in second half after downing 3-for-5 before intermission) and too many defensive breakdowns.

The Celtics had more second chances than a career criminal with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Even after the refs correctly (and interminably) decided a Paul Pierce prayer resulted after the shot clock had expired, the Knicks squandered their found fortune. An ugly miss by Carmelo Anthony and a last gasp lunge by 10th man Steve Novak (or Novak Djokovic, I can’t recall) reaffirmed the regurgitation.

Interesting that Mike D’Antoni, following the review of Pierce’s belated shot, needed a 20-second timeout after time had been out forever to draw the next play on the board.

Now I ask you, why would anybody get the impression Take a Hike Mike might be in critical coaching condition?

Do you really think assistant Mike Woodson is capable of catching opponents off guard by springing subsidiary scorers (Iman Shumpert and Landry Fields) for open treys down one (vs. the C’s) or marginal marksmen (Amare Stoudemire) from deep down three (Bulls) in the final seconds?

Think D’Antoni’s replacement would act equally gracious about asking pinch player Stephon Marbury, er, Novak if he wants to play with 4.4 seconds remaining against Boston?

How do these uninformed rumors get jump-started, anyway?

In case it slipped James Dolan’s mindlessness, the Knicks (or, more likely, the cable-paying suckers) are footing Chauncey Billups’ $12 million tab this season as he leads my Hedge Clippers -15-7 after edging the Magic in overtime on Monday night — to the top of the Pacific Division.

I have no idea what Kenyon Martin might have left in his battered body, and I certainly don’t buy Billups’ contention his ex-Nuggets teammate is misunderstood.

But nobody can accuse the Clippers of not going all out to assemble a title contender. Team owner Donald Sterling has ruined his reputation.

All is not bad news for the Knicks. Baron Davis’ status has been upgraded; he’s currently listed as trimester to trimester. “D’Antoni’s very excited,” column chondriac Richie Kalikow reports. “He just heard Baron’s water broke, so it won’t be long now.”

This just in: Jeremy Lin spearheaded a come-from-behind 99-92 win over the Nets on Saturday night.

Nobody can be more staggered than D’Antoni by Lin’s 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals, one turnover and disruptive defense on Deron Williams, who seemingly didn’t take his opponent seriously until it was too late.

After all, the brains of the Knicks’ outfit is entirely responsible for keeping Lin all but a secret (55 minutes in nine games — 20 vs. the Bulls last Thursday — before entrusting him with the ball for a team-high 36 against the Nets) since the Harvard playmaker doubled the team’s IQ in late December.

So, while the Garden crowd was on its feet losing its lungs each time Lin split the defense for dashing drives, nailed mid-range springers (0-for-4 from downtown) and craftily found teammates with bounce passes for uncontested layups or dunks, I shook my head in disbelief and disdain:

For months, we’ve all been misled to believe not having a prototype caretaker is largely to blame for the Knicks’ disharmony and dysfunction. This sorry 10-15 season became all about impatiently waiting for the release of Davis’ compact disc.

That’s been the Knicks’ story and the media got stuck with it. Most didn’t know any better, although one supposedly contrary columnist recounted witnessing Lin dismember Kemba Walker a few years ago and wondered why D’Antoni wouldn’t give him a run since he had nothing to lose.

But what we did or didn’t know about Lin is unimportant. What’s pertinent is that his faculties escaped D’Antoni, which is inexcusable.

I presume the head coach saw Lin scrimmage out of the corner of his eye at least once or twice. I’m guessing they were at practice at the same time.

And, what?

D’Antoni didn’t think Lin had the goods to cut it in the NBA?

Couldn’t grasp that Lin flaunted much of what the Knicks lack?

Allow me to submit an educated guess as to what’s behind Lin being kept down.

Two summers ago, Donnie Walsh was eager to sign the undrafted Harvard graduate, but the Warriors beat him to it. One of the Knicks’ decision makers probably remembered that (interim GM Glen Grunwald may even have conferred with the hardly consulted consultant, who knows?) and/or also appreciated his skill set.

Getting D’Antoni to give someone outside his conception some quality time (or hire a defensive assistant) is the prickly part.

That’s how despairing D’Antoni must have become. He was willing to play anyone to defer his discharge.

I look at Lin’s explosive emergence differently than the celebrants. It should not save D’Antoni’s job, his month-long burial should have gotten him booted after Saturday’s victory.

Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.