A baseline jumper by David Lee rattled in with 5.5 seconds left to salvage an 88-81 win last night for the Knicks, who saw a 22-point halftime lead dissolve to a point late in the fourth quarter.
But Lee's big shot and some miscues by the terri-Bulls at the other end - with a nod to strong defense by the Knicks - preserved a third straight win for the Knicks (11-17), who next play on Christmas Day against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat as part of the NBA's five-game nationally televised schedule.
Mike D'Antoni's team has eight wins in 11 games and is a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the East, which is a long way from the 1-9 start.
"I'll take this as an early Christmas gift," D'Antoni said.
Lee had another dominant - dare we say all-star? - performance with 18 points and 21 rebounds and Al Harrington had 20 points. Danilo Gallinari had an awful shooting night (2-for-13) and finished with 11.
Derrick Rose scored 16 of his 26 points in the third quarter to rally the Bulls (10-17) after an awful first half that produced just 12 points in the first quarter and 31 at the half.
As last season's Rookie of the Year started to percolate, the Knicks' offense went cold and the big lead continued to melt away. Rose scored on consecutive finger rolls late in the fourth, then Joakim Noah nailed a jump hook to cut it to a one-point deficit at 80-79 with 1:41 left in the game.
"We were trying to protect the lead," D'Antoni said, "instead of going ahead and playing."
Chris Duhon missed on a drive but Lee snatched a rebound from Noah and drew the foul with 1:25 left. He hit both free throws to make it an 82-79 lead. Rose then missed a 15-footer from straightaway on the next possession with 1:10 left, but Jared Jeffries missed at the other end to keep it a three-point game. Luol Deng then missed a jumper with 35 seconds to go and Jeffries was fouled on the rebound.
He missed both free throws, which drew loud groans from the Garden crowd. But the Bulls gave it right back when Rose threw the inbounds pass away.
Nate Robinson, whose agent is in discussions with Donnie Walsh about a way out of New York, sat for a 10th straight game as D'Antoni played his usual eight-man rotation in the first half, but only seven after halftime, as Jonathan Bender missed the second half with a sore right hip.
Bender said he felt a strain in his hip flexor and, considering his history of knee problems, which led him to retire in 2006, he must take extra precaution on all tweaks and pains.
"Any small thing right now, they want me to let them know about it," Bender said of the training staff. "And then shut it down."
It is uncertain if he will be available for Friday's game.