After losing six straight first quarters, the Knicks finally won one Thursday night, 22-19, against the 26-8 Spurs. The Knicks' interior defense, sparked by their first-ever starting front court featuring Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby, held the Spurs to just four points in the paint in the first half. In addition, the Spurs shot just 5-for-18 from 3-point range, and they entered the night shooting 47.5 percent from downtown during their recent seven-game winning streak. Offensively, the Knicks' ball movement was very good, sparked by Pablo Prigioni, which is where we start with our halftime observations:
1. Prigioni's playmaking. While he didn't score in the first half, Prigioni had five assists. In the first quarter, after J.R. Smith blocked a shot, Prigioni quickly pushed the ball and found Chandler for an alley-oop fast-break finish. Then Prigioni ran off a screen set by Amar'e Stoudemire and saw Steve Novak trailing behind him for a 3-pointer.
Later in the second quarter, he dished to Chris Copeland for a 3-pointer. Then, Prigioni attacked again off a pick-and-roll, and this time he made a ridiculous behind-the-back pass to Camby for an inside shot. Finally, he found Novak again for another 3-pointer. And he made a great play off the ball, when he set a great baseline screen for Carmelo Anthony, who finished inside from Camby's pass.
The two biggest takeaways are that Prigioni was aggressive off the pick-and-roll, and he got deeper penetration. He and Jason Kidd didn't do that Tuesday night against the Trail Blazers -- that forced the Spurs to scramble a bit with their rotations. Leading up to the game, Mike Woodson said he wanted his two point guards to be more aggressive, and they were. Perhaps Prigioni was a little more motivated going up against his fellow Argentine, Manu Ginobili. As for Kidd, he finished the half with a 3-pointer.
2. Stoudemire's post-up game. Stoudemire was Woodson's sixth man Thursday night, not Smith. The Knicks went right to Stoudemire in the post, and on his first possession he drove baseline, turned around and made a short jump-hook shot. At the start of the second quarter, Stoudemire faced up on Tiago Splitter and swished a nine-foot jumper. STAT also was effective on defense on one play, snatching the ball right out of Ginobili's hands when he drove in the paint. Where Stoudemire has to improve is with his court awareness on defense, when teams attack off the pick-and-roll. He's standing still and not turning his head quickly enough.
3. Knicks' balanced scoring. Against Portland, it was basically all Anthony and Smith. But so far Thursday night, every Knick, except for Prigioni, has scored. In addition to their defense to start the game, the Knicks also picked up their passing, finishing with 12 assists.
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