Bulls Fall to Knicks, Raptors in Control for 3rd in East

NEW YORK — Derrick Rose sinking the game-winning floater to beat the Knicks in October’s home opener seems like a lifetime ago.

The Bulls have moved on, using the teamwork and tenacity that has defined consecutive Rose-less seasons.

But their quest for the Eastern Conference’s third seed hit a major speed bump Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Taking the court knowing the Raptors had downed the Pistons, the Bulls succumbed to the Knicks 100-89.

The loss dropped them into a tie with the Raptors, who hold the tiebreaker, with two games remaining. The Bulls’ season-high seven-game winning streak and quiet quest for 50 victories went up in smoke as well.

“Our mindset wasn’t really good,” Joakim Noah said. “We had a golden opportunity. We let a big game slip. It was probably the biggest game of the season.”

Despite getting eliminated from playoff contention Saturday night, the Knicks used their regular rotation until Carmelo Anthony, who is nursing a sore shoulder, sat out the fourth quarter with starters Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith. That’s when the Bulls whittled a 17-point deficit with 7 minutes, 28 seconds left down to six with D.J. Augustin lining up a wide-open corner 3-pointer with 2:56 remaining.

But Augustin missed and Tim Hardaway Jr. knocked down two free throws after getting fouled on the ensuing fast break. The Bulls missed 8 of 9 3-pointers in the fourth, including another good look from Kirk Hinrich.

“I liked the fight to come back,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We missed some wide-open 3s that you live with.”

Hardaway’s 20 points led six Knicks in double figures. Noah fell one assist shy of matching Lance Stephenson’s league-leading fifth triple-double from earlier Sunday, finishing with 13 points and 17 rebounds.

The Knicks actually missed their first 10 3-point attempts before sinking their next six. That included four in a 1:51 stretch of the third when the Knicks broke the game open.

“Defensively, we weren’t very good,” Thibodeau said.

The game began to turn when the Knicks closed the first half with a 9-0 run. Later, Noah and Taj Gibson each drew technical fouls and the Bulls spent considerable time complaining to officials about calls.

“It was frustrating at times,” Gibson said. “We have to play through it.”

Indeed, that behavior contrasts with the resiliency the Bulls have shown all season.

“It’s tough,” Gibson said. “You look at how hard we play. We push hard all the time. Energy isn’t going to always be there. Sometimes you have to find other ways.”

The Bulls did Friday against the Pistons, erasing an 18-point deficit. They didn’t Sunday, and plenty remains at stake over the regular season’s final three days.

“We’ve been playing great basketball down the stretch. And I told them that,” Thibodeau said. “This time of year, jump ahead even a little and subconsciously that’s all the difference in the world. To get the edge and intensity you need, you need concentration and effort.”

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