Prigioni Might Hold Key to Knicks’ Fortunes in 2013

Published on: 15th December, 2013

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Stoudemire was expected to sit out but played 19 minutes  | read this item

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New York — Turning around their fourth-quarter performance was a small step. Pablo Prigioni’s goal is for the New York Knicks to turn around their whole season. Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points, Andrea Bargnani added 23 and the Knicks beat the Atlanta Hawks 111-106 on Saturday night but it was Prigioni who was the difference.

“I believe we can change this situation (by) working hard every day and try to play 100 percent every possession, every day, and I don’t know, keep going,” Prigioni said. “We can’t be sad because of what we did in the last 20 games. We have to look in front and just keep going.”

Prigioni appears to be just what the doctor ordered for Mike Woodson, who has been on coaching life support for a few weeks, now.

The 35-year old Argentine point guard, signed by the Knicks last year as a backup to Raymond Felton, brings a whole different element to the Knicks on both sides of the floor. With the ball in Prigioni’s hands, the spacing on offense seems improved, guys are getting the ball in places where they could succeed, passes are crisper, and the fundamentals of the game – pick and rolls, backdoor passes, open looks because the ball is swinging around the floor – are back in vogue for the Knicks.

On defense, Prigioni is a ball hawk. He had four steals tonight but he could have had triple that amount.

Prigioni is a fundamental player, a Knicks need right now

Prigioni is a fundamental player, a Knicks need right now

He didn’t let the Hawks guards throw the ball into the paint without doubling down on the big who just received the ball. His pest-like swiping at the ball while it’s in the big’s hands forced the Hawks post player, either Al Horford or Paul Millsap, to make decisions with the ball in their hands, something they aren’t used to doing.

More often than not, the play didn’t run smoothly as evidenced by the nine turnovers committed by Millsap and the three committed by Horford. Prigioni’s double-teams turned them into ballhandlers and decision-makers. Big men hate that.

Prigioni had a season-high 11 points and was a spark in the decisive 11-0 run midway through the final period as the Knicks finished strong one night after a fourth-quarter flop cost them in a loss at Boston.

New York could have been looking at a three-game winning streak, but was outscored 22-13 in the final 12 minutes of its 90-86 loss to the Celtics.

“We weren’t stale tonight in the fourth quarter like we were last night,” coach Mike Woodson said. “We played what, four games in five days, and it was kind of nice to see us bounce back like that.”

Lou Williams scored a season-high 27 points in his best game since returning from knee surgery, but the Hawks committed 27 turnovers — most in the NBA this season — that led to 36 points and negated their 60.6 percent shooting.

Stoudemire was expected to sit out but played 19 minutes

Stoudemire was expected to sit out but played 19 minutes

“I think tonight was a night where the most aggressive team won. I think you give a lot of credit to the Knicks,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Defensively, they were creating a lot of turnovers, creating a lot of problems for us.”

Paul Millsap scored 18 but had nine turnovers and fouled out. Al Horford finished with 17 points.

The Knicks wore their regular whites instead of the alternate orange uniforms they’ve been wearing for weekend home games. They’re 0-6 in the orange, including a 110-90 loss to the Hawks at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 16, when they caused a color clash with Atlanta’s red.

New York’s lead was just 87-83 before Anthony’s 3-pointer with 6:26 remaining. Prigioni then hit one, followed that with a steal and a layup, and then fed Bargnani for another 3 that made it 98-83 with 5:11 to play.

Starting for injured point guard Raymond Felton, Prigioni also had six assists and harassed the Hawks’ ballhandlers into a number of mistakes.

Kyle Korver scored 13 points, making four of Atlanta’s six 3-pointers in the third quarter to extend his NBA record to 93 straight games with at least one. That helped the Hawks pull to 81-77, but they coughed it up seven times in the fourth.

“We couldn’t capitalize off of the mistakes they made,” Horford said. “There were a few times we had a fast break in which we could have scored and we threw the ball away. I think that cost us the game. That kind of deflated us as a team.”

Still without injured starters Tyson Chandler and Felton, the Knicks also were missing Kenyon Martin, who has a strained left abdominal muscle. But they somewhat surprisingly had Amare Stoudemire, who said Friday he expected to be ordered to take the night off by the training staff in what was the team’s fourth game in five days.

Instead, Stoudemire — who was barred from playing on back-to-back nights earlier this season and had his minutes restricted coming off another knee surgery — said he felt great and wanted to play. And face it, the Knicks need all the help they can get. Woodson acknowledged that Stoudemire probably wouldn’t have played if the Knicks were 15-5, but they’re only 7-16. Stoudemire scored nine.

Atlanta had a one-point lead with under 5 minutes left in the second quarter before Tim Hardaway Jr. made a 3-pointer and dunked, starting a 12-0 run that gave the Knicks a 52-41 advantage.

J.R. Smith got the start for Martin after taking just one shot in the loss at Boston. Smith said after the game he was focusing on distributing to his teammates, an idea so out of character that Woodson had trouble keeping a straight face when asked about it Saturday.

Smith took eight shots, but made only one and finished with two points.

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