The Chicago Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference while the New York Knicks are fighting tooth and nail just to stay in the playoff race, but these potential first round opponents looked pretty evenly matched in a wild Sunday afternoon game. The Knicks took a huge lead in the early going, only to watch Chicago's ever-tightening defense dismantle it over the latter three quarters. But in the end, Carmelo Anthony put the flourish on a brilliant afternoon with two massive shots -- one in regulation and one in overtime -- to win the game for New York, 100-99.
The Bulls had Derrick Rose back in the lineup for the first time since mid-March and, at the outset, looked more than a little out of sync. New York's defense came out looking as rowdy and meddlesome as it's ever been, and harangued the Bulls into turnovers and bad outside shots nearly ever time down. The Knicks turned those stops into transition buckets and solid looks for Carmelo Anthony, who opened the game 5-5 from the field. New York's intensity on both ends built them a 27-6 lead, but once the benches shuffled onto the floor, the Bulls began to chip away.
Chicago cut the deficit to 12 at the end of the first quarter and eight at halftime, then ran wild in the third quarter. Rose, quieted by the defense of Iman Shumpert in the first half, finally started to erupt. His drives started to bear fruit, and so did some fairly ridiculous pulls from downtown. By the late fourth quarter, Rose and the Bulls had stormed into the lead. They went up by as much as 10 points with just under four minutes remaining, and appeared to have the game in hand.
That's when Anthony, who'd been pretty much all New York had going offensively since the first quarter, took over. After J.R. Smith redeemed himself for an awful shooting performance with a big three-pointer, Anthony hit consecutive layups, then drilled an audacious game-tying three in Taj Gibson's face. Rose air-balled his game-winning attempt on the next possession, and the game went into overtime. Of course, all of this could have been avoided if the Bulls just hit their free throws-- Rose and Luol Deng went 0-4 in the final minute to allow New York's comeback.
And OT went pretty much the same way. The Bulls went ahead by four on a Rose floater with just under three minutes remaining, then the Knicks took over. Anthony's driving lay-in cut it to two, Smith stripped Rose on the next play, then the Knicks came the other way and ran off one of the night's more epic possessions. Anthony missed a succession of lay-ups inside, then, thanks to the fine offensive rebounding of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks got another look -- a Smith three -- then ANOTHER look in the hands of Anthony. This time, Anthony squared up from about the same spot he'd pulled from in regulation and drilled a three over Deng, reaching 43 points on the night and putting New York ahead for good in the closing seconds.
With the loss and a Miami win, Chicago lost a bit of padding on their first-place seeding in the Eastern Conference. They now sit just two games above the Heat. New York's win, combined with a Philadelphia loss, lifted them to the 7th in the East, if only momentarily.
For all of Sunday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.