David Lee rattled in the clinching jumper with 5.5 seconds left, finishing with 18 points and a career high-tying 21 rebounds as the New York Knicks held on for an 88-81 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.
One night after a humiliating collapse at home, the Bulls nearly battled back from a huge deficit in this one. But New York prevailed for its third straight victory and seventh in nine games.
Al Harrington led the Knicks with 20 points and Wilson Chandler had 16. New York improved to 8-3 this month, clinching its first winning December since going 9-7 in 2004.
Derrick Rose scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half for the Bulls, who whittled a 22-point deficit to one in the final 2 minutes. But Lee grabbed an offensive board and made two free throws with 1:25 remaining, then sank a baseline jumper that made it 84-79 as the shot clock was winding down.
Luol Deng scored 23 points and Joakim Noah had 10 points and 21 rebounds.
The Knicks continued their impressive turnaround after the worst start in franchise history and improved to 3-0 on a five-game homestand. Another possible victory was lost when they wasted a 17-point lead in a 98-89 loss last Thursday in Chicago, where they hoisted 47 3-pointers, two shy of the NBA record.
That was nothing compared to the lead the Bulls blew Monday night.
Chicago lost 102-98 to Sacramento after opening a 35-point bulge with 8:50 left in the third quarter. It was the biggest rally in the NBA since Utah came back from 36 points down to beat Denver on Nov. 27, 1996, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
That only increased speculation that coach Vinny Del Negro's job could be in jeopardy, but he said before the game he didn't have time to worry about that.
"It comes with the job," he said. "It warrants criticism, especially a game like last night, and you've got to just get better and find a way to get to work and prepare, and with this back-to-back game you don't have a lot of time to dwell on things. You've got to prepare for tonight."
But his team started as poorly Tuesday as it finished Monday and lost its eighth straight on the road.
Chicago missed 10 of its first 12 shots and the Knicks owned a double-digit lead for much of the first quarter before taking a 22-12 advantage into the second. A 10-3 spurt early in the period made it a 17-point game, and Harrington's jumper as time expired after Lee hustled to keep a possession alive made it 53-31 at halftime.
After building a 79-44 lead in the third quarter Monday, the Bulls were outscored 111-50 from there through the first two quarters of this game.
But they chipped away in the third, helped by some sloppy play from the Knicks, and cut it to 68-56 on Rose's 3-pointer at the buzzer. Chicago climbed within eight early in the fourth, and after New York pushed it back to 13, Rose led another charge. He had consecutive buckets, then found Noah for a layup that made it 80-79 with 1:41 left, setting up Lee's strong finish.
NOTES: Larry Hughes returned for the Knicks after missing three games with a strained left groin. ... Knicks forward Jonathan Bender, who recently returned to the NBA after knee injuries forced him to walk away early in the 2005-06 season, sat out the second half with a sore right hip. ... The Knicks will be wearing green uniforms Friday when they host Miami in their first Christmas game since 2001.