Prigioni A Key Ingredient In Knicks’ Run

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NEW YORK – Not long after Frank Vogel made his questionable decisions to call timeout and replace Roy Hibbert with Jeff Pendergraph in Game 2 of the conference semifinals on Tuesday, Mike Woodson made a critical call of his own.

In the final minute of the third quarter, with the Knicks still up just three, Woodson put Pablo Prigioni back on the floor.

Prigioni, a 35-year-old rookie, was a big key to the Knicks’ offensive resurgence and 16-2 finish to the season. What he lacks in obvious basketball talent, he makes up for with intelligence, a willingness to move the ball offensively and relentless, on-the-ball defense.

Damian Lillard was the Rookie of the Year, but Prigioni (who somehow didn’t get a single first, second or third-place vote) was the Plus-Minus Rookie of the Year, making a clear difference on both ends of the floor. New York was better both offensively and defensively when Prigioni was in the game in the regular season.

But he was in and out of the rotation until that final stretch. Woodson has never played Prigioni big minutes, even once he seemingly realized his value, obviously needing to find enough time for Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in the backcourt (1, 2 and 3 positions). But there were a couple of times in the first round where that may have hurt the Knicks.

In Game 5 against the Celtics, with the Knicks able to close out the series at home, Smith shot 3-for-14 while Prigioni sat on the bench for all but 13 minutes. The Knicks lost that game by six, but had outscored the Celtics by nine with Prigioni on the floor.

Then came Game 6 in Boston. The Knicks were up 26 points when Woodson replaced Prigioni with Smith with 9:43 to go in the fourth quarter. Coincidentally or not, the Celtics then went on a 20-0 run, putting a major scare in Woodson and most of New York City.

Woodson admits that Celtics run was on his mind four nights later.

“I didn’t forget Game 6 in Boston,” he said afterward.

So, just 13 seconds after replacing Felton with Shumpert, he sat Shumpert back down and brought back Prigioni, perhaps to match up with the quickness of D.J. Augustin, who had just checked in for Indiana, or perhaps to get back to a two-point guard lineup (Kidd was also on the floor).

Whatever the reason, the results were good. Prigioni helped the Knicks turn their three-point lead into an incredible 30-point cushion before the Pacers made a single shot from the field.

With the Knicks up six to start the fourth quarter, Prigioni made Roy Hibbert pay for not defending him on two straight pick-and-rolls with Tyson Chandler. First he stepped into a 3-pointer, and then he got to the foul line and stroked a 15-foot floater.

After a timeout, Prigioni grabbed a defensive rebound. And by the time the Knicks got the ball back up the floor, the Madison Square Garden was chanting, “PAB-LO! PAB-LO! PAB-LO!” The guy most of the crowd had probably never heard of back in November was now a playoff hero.

“It was amazing for me,” Prigioni said of the response from the crowd, “but for me it is only about the team. I am really happy. You can’t believe how happy I am because the team played well.”

Prigioni picked up another rebound, three assists and a block (a block!) by the time the Knicks’ 36-4 run was over. It was obviously huge that Carmelo Anthony found an offensive rhythm for the first time in five games and the Knicks’ tear was a total team effort. But it’s probably not a coincidence that Prigioni (who set a key screen on one of Anthony’s jumpers and set him up for another) was on the floor for most of it.

Prigioni gets his team to move the ball and can make defenses pay if they don’t pay attention to him. With Kidd (0-for-13 over the last six games) struggling, a little offense from the other 35-plus point guard is all the more critical.

Prigioni’s on-off-court differential has more than doubled in the playoffs. Over their eight postseason games, the Knicks have been much, much better with him on the floor in the playoffs. Like, really, a lot better …

Knicks efficiency with Prigioni on and off the floor, playoffs

Prigioni on/off MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
On floor 155 109.4 85.4 +24.0 +66
Off floor 234 94.2 98.2 -4.1 -15

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

At this point, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. And it’s clear that Woodson knows not to make the same mistake he made against the Celtics. If the Knicks are going to win this series, Prigioni is going to play a role.

“This was a big game for our ball club that we had to win,” Woodson said Tuesday. “I had flashbacks of Boston. I went with him and he came up big.”

25 Comments

  1. Tony says:

    Apparently, if you don’t dunk, you have no talent. Is it right?

  2. HE LACKS IN BASKETBALL TALENT?

    Maybe athletic talent… I have watched Prigioni every season in Spain, he’s not a “showtime player”, but if you talk about basketball IQ, he is one of the best. You definitely don’t know who are you talking about.

    It happens with a lot of players that come from Europe, european basketball is underrated, Look at Popovich, he brings a lot of european players and his team is always on top.

  3. Ann says:

    ” What he lacks in obvious basketball talent”… I guess this writer doesn’t know a thing about International Basketball

  4. Emilio says:

    Apparently, if you don’t dunk, you have no talent. What it’s crystal clear is that the writer is lacking some.

  5. Gonex says:

    Lack of talent? Because he can’t dunk or because he isn’t selfish at all? Maybe you should define “lack in basketball talent”.

  6. Fuuu says:

    “What he lacks in basketball talent” simply disrespectful..

  7. Harry J Howard says:

    Prigioni lacking talent? Sure, it’s because of his physical prowess that he’s playing top NBA basketball at 35. Ridiculous.

  8. Mr. Real says:

    Getting back amare on the floor will definitely ruin the knicks’ spectacular defense. The man has no interest in playing defense at all. Give him this summer to internalize his new role in the team’s rotation. on offense, the team is now playing with great chemistry with Melo leading the charge, and Felton/Pablo spreading the ball. Aside, Melo is playing the same position amare used to have.

  9. funny says:

    looks like someone needs to start looking outside the US before making ignorant statements about a gold medal winner.

  10. Jon says:

    ” What he lacks in obvious basketball talent”… sorry sir, but I guess you wanted to say “of physical skills”. Because about talent, he would give a degree

  11. jose says:

    there is a world out the U.S.!!! lack in basketball talent, c’amon!!! talent in basketball is what P.P has!!!
    Chauvinism is obviously what you don’t lack

  12. En Bee Ei says:

    Marshmello Anthony: He will be traded soon… Like JL he’s stealing the spotlight from me

  13. Ignacio says:

    Prigioni is well known in Europe and Argentina. A very good base at 35 years, and minimum wage was to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA. Humble and hardworking earned his place in the best league in the world.

  14. gerald martin says:

    we are gonna need fresh bodys to keep up the pace with the pacer’s.it would be a big plus to get amare back

  15. Filippetto says:

    “What he lacks in basketball talent”…??? really?? I think you are lacking attention to international basketball…
    The guy is playing that great (something you just made clear) at 35, playing in NBA because he wanted and has a gold medal at home being a starter and organizer of the team. He may not be the greatest point guard in the world, but certainly has a lot of basketball talent. And look that this is a brazilian speaking…

    • GabrielGG says:

      He didn’t say that Prigioni had no talent, he said that he lacks OBVIOUS basketball talent, which means you won’t see Pab much in highlight reels and he’s not used to make some otherworldly plays like Blake Griffin or LeBron… Nevertheless, Pablo is a fantastic and talented player, and I think Mr. Schuhmann knows it, otherwise he wouldn’t have written an article on him, don’t you think?

  16. Oakley34BLAM says:

    Been lovin Pablo all year…one of my few complaints with Woodson has been Pab’s lack of floor time throughout the season…hopefully he is realizing just how much he is needed in game. My biggest hope though is that Shump is absorbing Pab and Kidd’s Def Wisdom. Shump is an incredible defender…but he can improve…and watching Pablo the Gnat go at it may pay huge dividends down the road.

  17. Simba says:

    “What he lacks in basketball talent”… Prigioni lacks basketball talent? Well I guess it’s a miracle he’s in the NBA at 35 after being an impressive player in the Euroleague and international competition seeing as he has no basketball talent.

  18. Rolando says:

    Prigioni is not really a “rookie” , he was one of the best play maker outside the NBA, he wanted to play there , tha´s why he accepted the lowest salary. but he is one of the key player of Argentinean team, he got the gold and bronze in the olimpics games. and the second position in Indianapolis.

    • Andrés says:

      Really, lack of basketball talent? Anyway, i totally agree with the rest.
      And, for the ones that commented, Prigioni didn’t win the gold medal, he just got the bronze in 2008.

  19. garykrysztof says:

    Reblogged this on Scoreboard Watching and commented:
    Prigioni has come a long way from his time playing overseas and is paying huge dividends for the Knicks. Check out this old video I stumbled upon a while back.

  20. Johnny B Goode says:

    You have always ignored him in your blog and now you act as a wise man that knew he was great………..