A great many New York Knicks fans (this one included) have spent at least some time over the past two seasons pleading with head coach Mike Woodson to give more playing time to Pablo Prigioni. The backup point guard is arguably the lone unselfish/pass-first player on the Knicks' roster and, when he has seen the floor, has seemed the team's sole tether to the two point guards/Carmelo Anthony at power forward/space the floor, share the ball and bomb 3-pointers identity that propelled the Knicks to 54 wins and the second round of the playoffs last season, but has been in very short supply through New York's miserable start to the 2013-14 campaign.
The 36-year-old Argentine did get some burn on Tuesday night, playing just under 27 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers — his second-highest total of the season, surpassed only by the 37 1/2 minutes he played during New York's season-opening win over the Milwaukee Bucks — and chipped in six points, three rebounds and nine assists with just one turnover. But he also got some burn on Tuesday night, courtesy of a scorching Kyrie Irving:
This is probably not going to make Woodson feel much better about playing Pablo for longer stretches.
Hey, Cavaliers fans wondering what it would take for Irving to shake the cobwebs loose and resume hitting shots/annihilating defenders? Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting has your answer:
The Knicks are here for you, struggling guards of the NBA. Kyrie Irving had been a bit off since mid-November, so New York's defensive organization — the Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards (FARTDOG) — rehabilitated him.
After eight straight games of making less than half of his field-goal attempts, Irving exploded against the Knicks. The 2012-13 All-Star scored 37 points on 14 for 23 shooting, dishing 11 assists against just one turnover in 36-plus minutes, and propelling the Cavs to a 109-94 win that improved them to 4-1 in their last five games and dropped the Knicks to 5-15 on the season, matching the worst 20-game start in franchise history. (The Knicks have started 5-15 five times before; as MSG Network's Alan Hahn notes, none of those five teams made the playoffs.)
Irving proved an equal-opportunity abuser whether guarded by Prigioni, shooting guard Iman Shumpert (the Knicks' nominal top perimeter defender) or starting point guard Raymond Felton en route to what first-year Cav Jarrett Jack (17 points on 6 for 8 shooting off the Cleveland bench) told Irving after the win "was the most 'mature' game that [Kyrie] had put together during [this] season," according to Scott Sargent of Waiting for Next Year.
"It was just another game," Irving said, according to Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Every game I play, I just think about the next one. I haven't shot it as well as I've want to, but I've put in a lot of work on off-days, and trying to reap some of the rewards. That's what happened tonight."
And here's how it happened, in breathtaking detail:
It comes as no surprise that Irving had his "mature" breakout performance against the Knicks. For one thing, the Knicks' Felton/Prigioni/Shumpert/occasional Beno Udrih group has been largely abysmal in defending point guards at the point of attack this year, and with Tyson Chandler still sidelined ("I'm close. I'm not that close. I know I'm not game ready," Chandler said Tuesday) and the Knicks playing defensively challenged bigs Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire at center, there's nobody behind those beaten point guards to clean things up and protect the basket once the blow-by has taken place. (The Knicks could have used Kenyon Martin, shelved with a sore left ankle, on Tuesday; that statement in and of itself contains multitudes about how New York's season is going.)
Irving has averaged 32.8 points in his last four games against New York. That's the highest average versus the Knicks over the past two seasons (minimum: 3 games). The only other Cavaliers player ever to average 30 or more points over four games against the Knicks was LeBron James, who did it several times with a maximum of 38.3 points over a four-game span versus New York (2007-08).
No wonder Clevelanders want Kyrie to stick around.
Irving put the finishing touches on the Knicks by scoring 10 points on 4 for 6 shooting in the fourth quarter, repeatedly escorted to the rim and left alone on the perimeter to do his work. As J.R. Smith (14 points on 14 shots, plus one of the more acrobatic and horrendous turnovers you'll see this week) noted after the game, according to Scott Cacciola of the New York Times, "It’s like kicking a man when he’s down." Your fighting New York Knicks, ladies and gentlemen.
Prigioni could get a chance to redeem himself defensively in the days ahead, when the Knicks take on fellow Tuesday losers the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden. Felton (six points on 3 for 8 shooting and three assists against Cleveland) re-aggravated the lefty hamstring injury that cost him four games earlier this season, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone:
Felton wasn't optimistic about playing tonight against Chicago. "The way I feel right now, I have no chance," he said.
With the Knicks playing three games in the next four nights, he might just shut it down for at least the rest of the week. "That's what I'm hearing,'' Felton said. "That's the advice I'm getting, but we'll see what happens."
If Prigioni finds himself being put in the spin cycle by the likes of Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague, though, Woodson might eliminate all the mystery about how hot his seat is and just leave the World's Most Famous Arena in the middle of the game without clearing out his desk. It'd be hard to blame him, really.
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