Prigioni's toughness sets tone for Knicks

During Saturday's practice, Mike Woodson showed his guys film of their defensive lapses when they lost to the tough-minded Celtics, Pacers and Bulls.

His main point of emphasis? "Play more physical."

For Pablo Prigioni, that was nothing new. During his many years competing overseas, the 35-year-old point guard learned the only way to play is with grit, heart and toughness -- and he's carried that over to the Knicks.

On Sunday afternoon, those factors contributed to the game-changing quarter -- the second -- when Prigioni played with the intensity needed to hold the Hornets to 12 points. The Knicks, on the other hand, scored 27, building a lead they maintained for the rest of the afternoon.

"I thought Pablo set the tone in terms of the defense," Woodson said afterwards.

In the first quarter, the Knicks' D was largely AWOL. The Hornets scored 29 points, and Jason Kidd continued to struggle defensively at point guard, committing two turnovers in the opening period.

Leading up to the game, Woodson said Kidd's extended minutes were "not healthy," and he was fortunate Prigioni played well on both ends of the floor on Sunday. Kidd only saw 23 minutes of action.

Prigioni made his first big impact with 8:51 remaining in the second quarter. He cut off Austin Rivers' pass on the opposite side, and drove in for the uncontested layup.

"He has to be maybe the best guard in the league at getting that little steal that he does on the inbounds, constantly pressuring the guard," Tyson Chandler said. "He's sneaky, crafty."

Prigioni has been applying that full-court pressure all season.

"Not a lot of guys can do it, stay with their guy, kind of pester him," Steve Novak said. "I think point guards don't want to go against that. Pablo does a great job of making it tough on them."

Later in the second period, Prigioni was relentless on the attack. He made plays off pick-and-rolls and in transition. Kidd hadn't been getting that deep-drive penetration, and, as one veteran scout put it, Kidd is "more suited for two guard."

In the second half, Prigioni showed off his floor vision, firing skip passes to Novak and Chris Copeland for 3s.

"He sees the weak side so well, he really does," Novak said. "He's a true point guard."

Whenever Prigioni has been asked to play bigger minutes -- he went for 29 Sunday -- he's excelled. Of the five previous times he's played at least 24 minutes, four of them resulted in Knicks wins -- on Nov. 5, Nov. 28, Nov. 30 and Jan. 3. The only loss came on Jan. 11 against the Bulls, when he went for 12 points, eight assists and three steals in 30 minutes.

On Sunday, Prigioni finished with eight points, five assists and one steal. While he didn't address reporters after the game, his teammates made sure to put in the good word.

"He sees his role changing even more with Raymond (Felton) out," Anthony said. "He's seeing he has to step up and do a lot more."

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