Williams was coming off a 13-point first quarter in a win over the Hawks, and he had jumped up his overall scoring in the period from 5.6 points before Dec. 28 points to seven since. His speed, quickness and All-Star ability to weave around screens, penetrate, cover the court, score and pass all posed the necessary threats to give the assignment to the younger and defensive-minded Shumpert.
Granted, Woodson did have a difficult choice with both Williams and Joe Johnson on the other side of the floor. And as it turned out, Kidd stepped up to the challenge. In fact, he played his best defense of the season, finishing with six steals. In the first quarter alone, Kidd blocked one of Williams' layups, forced him to lose the ball out of bounds and then stole one of his passes, which led to a fastbreak score.
"I need more of Kidds playing," Woodson told ESPNNewYork.com after Tuesday's practice. "I mean, these other, younger guys have got to play like Jason Kidd, who's an older veteran. They're young; they can play that way, so I've got to get that."
In Shumpert's return, not only has Kidd's perimeter defense been overlooked, so has Pablo Prigioni's. While neither are great isolation defenders -- that's Shump's strong suit -- they make it up with their constant effort, court awareness and scrappiness through pick-and-rolls. After Kidd made his mark in the first period, Prigioni was all over Williams and then stole a pass, which led to a foul call and a made free throw. Both players continued their defensive excellence in the second half.
If you look at the Knicks' top two defensive five-man lineups -- based on at least 30 minutes played together -- Kidd and Prigioni anchor both of them. Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler have allowed 81.2 points per 48 minutes; and Prigioni, Smith, Steve Novak, Anthony and Chandler have given up 82.7 points.
Prigioni has been especially effective. In most of the Knicks' top two-man defensive lineups, he's in them. Unlike Kidd, he'll pick up his man full court and bump him as he dribbles, trying to throw off his regular routine to set up his team's offense. He did that against Williams on Monday. Prigioni's relentless approach doesn't stop in halfcourt sets and he has an outstanding basketball IQ from years of playing overseas.
"He does a great job," Raymond Felton said on Tuesday. "He understands the game. He's a small guy, but he's very aggressive and he's really strong. Trust me."
While the Knicks are shorthanded down low with no Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace, at least Kidd and Prigioni will add to the physicality the team needs to face tough-minded teams like Boston. If they can, along with Shumpert, help lock down Rajon Rondo and the Celtics' perimeter, the Knicks could have more than a fighting chance on Thursday.