NEW YORK -- One night after a humiliating collapse, the Chicago Bulls nearly pulled off a furious comeback.
Lee rattled in the clinching jumper with 5.5 seconds left, finishing with 18 points and a career high-tying 21 rebounds as the Knicks held on for an 88-81 victory Tuesday night.
New York won its third straight and seventh in nine games, but Lee admitted that the Bulls' game Monday, when they blew a 35-point lead in a home loss to Sacramento, was on his mind.
"I definitely thought about that because they were trying to turn the tables, but I was hoping they would run out of gas a little bit because they were on the back-to-back and we were fresh," Lee said. "But they played with great heart."
Not until Chicago had started Tuesday as poorly as it finished Monday.
"We can't play just a half of basketball. We're not that good of a team to do that," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We have to play consistently the whole game and we haven't done that the last couple of nights and you usually get what you deserve, like I always say."
"I'll take this as a Christmas gift," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said.
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.
"Last night was tough, just traveling-wise and everything," Rose said. "But it's the NBA, no excuses. You've still got to go out there and play. We tried our hardest in the first half. In the second half we just gave it our all."
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 Del Negro's job could be in jeopardy, but he said before the game he wasn't worried about that.
Noah said the Bulls "definitely have a lot of soul searching to do" after their eighth straight road loss.
"If you were my friend, I would tell you a lot of things, but I feel like if I say something, it's just going to make things really bad," Noah said. "I'm not in a position as a player to really talk on that. We're really going through hard times and I don't want to make it even tougher."
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.
"I was thinking if we went on a 10-0 run the first five minutes we probably pretty much had them. That's kind of the mindset that we should have had, but we didn't," Knicks guard Chris Duhon said. "Every team in this league is good to where you give them confidence and they can come back from any point deficit and that's kind of what happened tonight."
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.
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.
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