The Knicks looked as if they were going to run away from Chicago Wednesday night, and do to the Bulls what they had done to them their past two games.
Leading by 23 points in the third quarter, the Knicks played sloppy and mindless basketball and were tied in the fourth. But they avoided what might have been their worst loss in a season filled with awful defeats.
The Knicks held off the depleted Bulls, 83-78, at the Garden for only their sixth victory in 21 games. "We so desperately needed a win,'' Mike Woodson said.
Had the Knicks lost, it might very well have been Woodson's last game as coach. Even though they won, their endgame performance didn't do him any favors.
The Bulls are without Derrick Rose (knee surgery), Luol Deng (Achilles) and Jimmy Butler (toe) and nearly pulled it out. It was tied at 74 with 3:38 left. But the Knicks scored the next seven points and celebrated only their third home win in 11 games.
"I think guys really realized this was a game we couldn't let slip out of our hands,'' Carmelo Anthony said. "From a mental standpoint, if this game would have gotten away from us, there ain't no telling what would have happened.''
Anthony (30 points, 10 rebounds) scored the Knicks' last seven from the foul line in the final 1:29. Amar'e Stoudemire had a third straight strong game and was a go-to guy late. Playing on consecutive nights for the first time this season, he had 14 points and nine rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes. His jumper with 2:34 left gave the Knicks the lead for good.
"I'm getting back into a rhythm,'' Stoudemire said. "I'm getting back to my old self. My confidence is rising.''
Iman Shumpert left the game after he bruised his surgically repaired left knee in a third-quarter collision with Mike Dunleavy Jr. The Knicks were without Raymond Felton, who re-aggravated his left hamstring Tuesday.
Dunleavy scored 20 for the Bulls (8-12). Joakim Noah added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The last time the Knicks were home, the Celtics blasted them by 41 points Sunday. They followed that with a 15-point loss in Cleveland. To say the Knicks and Woodson needed this game would be an understatement.
They seemed to take control with a 19-0 run to start the second quarter. They led 66-46 with 2:04 left in the third but played carelessly, letting the Bulls storm back.
The Bulls had a chance to take the lead with about three minutes left, but Stoudemire made a big steal and hit a jumper to put the Knicks up 76-74 with 2:34 left. Anthony hit two foul shots to make it 78-74 with 1:29 to go. Chicago was scoreless until two Taj Gibson foul shots made it 81-76 with 10.8 seconds left.
"If we would have lost this game, we'd be singing the same tune,'' Woodson said. "It's a good win for us. We've struggled to win games. So any game that we win is important.''
Woodson's seat may be hot, but he was cool and calm before the game as he discussed what he's done as the Knicks' coach, what he's had to deal with, from Tyson Chandler's injury to players on minutes' restrictions, and his belief he can straighten out the season if given a chance.
Woodson said he won't go to upper management and plead his case.
"I'm not trying to convince anyone,'' he said. "I'm trying to take our team as it is and do the best job we can possibly do. We've had our struggles. And I've always thought as a coach I can take any team and win. When I step out on the floor, I feel I can put us in position to win. It may be stubborn when I say that, but that's just how I feel.''