Prigioni punctuates Knicks' ball movement

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
1:49
AM ET
About an hour and a half before tip-off Thursday night, Mike Woodson called the 26-9 Spurs, who were riding a seven-game winning streak, "the best team in basketball right now."

A lot of that has to do with point guard Tony Parker's ability to work magic around pick-and-rolls and move around the court like a waterbug, making big play after big play.

[+] EnlargePablo Prigioni
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesPablo Prigioni stepped up in a big way Thursday night.
But in the Knicks' 100-83 convincing win over the Spurs, Parker only had 11 points and six assists -- a credit to the Knicks' improved pick-and-roll defense. Meanwhile, Pablo Prigioni was the most effective point guard on the floor. The Knicks sorely needed that, without the injured Raymond Felton.

"With Raymond out, everybody needs to do something extra," Prigioni said after the game. "Me and Jason, we are the two point guards. I will try to give my best until Raymond comes back."

But it wasn't just Prigioni's game-high nine assists that made the difference, or the team's 26 dishes overall in their dominating victory over the Spurs. It was Prigioni and his teammates' aggressiveness and ball rotation -- especially off constant double-teams on Carmelo Anthony -- which Woodson spoke about wanting to see more of after their loss to the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

"The ball moved," the coach said. "Our defense put us in an offensive position. We made stops and were able to get the ball up the floor, and we made shots tonight."

With that aggressiveness early on, Kidd and Prigioni were able to get deep penetration. That had been missing from the point guards in the Knicks' recent 1-2 slide, when both of them were playing more of a perimeter game and leaving it to Anthony and J.R. Smith to get things going. But NBA teams these days are really only as good as their point guards, and Kidd and Prigioni stepped up their playmaking in pick-and-rolls.

Prigioni was especially brilliant, and it started in the first quarter when he found Tyson Chandler just past halfcourt for an alley-oop dunk in transition. In the second quarter, he attacked off a pick-and-roll and made a ridiculous behind-the-back pass to Marcus Camby for a finish inside. Then, to cap off his best floor game of the season -- and his team's win -- in the fourth quarter he delivered a pass to Smith, sneaking backdoor, for SportsCenter's No. 1 highlight -- a reverse one-handed dunk while catching the ball below his waist.

"[Prigioni] did an excellent job of penetrating tonight, finding open shooters and making plays," Chandler said.

Said Anthony, "He ran the team, he attacked, he was aggressive. A lot of times he's out there being the distributor too much, and we need him to attack. Tonight, he did that."

What fueled the Knicks even more on offense was Smith's continued production as a facilitator. His 20 points marked the fifth straight game he's reached that amount -- the longest streak in his career -- and he had three assists as well.

"I told him, 'With Kidd and Pab, we'll need him to be a little more aggressive, because we can't expect them to carry the load throughout the entire game," Chandler said. "With his athleticism, having him come off the pick-and-roll and being able to finish at the rim, as well as rise up and make jumpshots, that puts a lot of pressure on the defense."

While Felton remains sidelined for the next four weeks or so, it's going to be up to Prigioni, Kidd and Smith to balance out the Knicks' offense. And perhaps, if they can do that -- and play consistent defense -- the Knicks will be the best team in basketball for more than one night.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Carmelo Anthony
PTS AST STL MIN
27.4 3.1 1.2 38.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Anthony 8.1
AssistsP. Prigioni 3.5
StealsI. Shumpert 1.2
BlocksA. Bargnani 1.2