NEW YORK – Carmelo Anthony called it a statement game, and the message should be clear for the Bulls.
If they do meet in the playoffs, the Bulls better finish off Anthony and the Knicks when they have the chance.
Anthony scored 43 points, his most since coming to New York in February 2011, and made the go-ahead three-pointer with 8.2 seconds left in overtime as the Knicks spoiled the return to the lineup for a rusty Derrick Rose and beat the Bulls, 100-99, on Sunday.
Anthony tied it with a three late in regulation and scored the final five points of overtime in his signature performance since coming to New York.
He only had the chance to pull it out because the Bulls missed four straight free throws in the final 34 seconds of regulation.
“This was a playoff game. We have a chance, we might play these guys in the playoffs if we keep doing what we’re doing and get that seed, so this was a big statement game for us and we willed this one tonight,” Anthony said.
It had the look and sound of a playoff game in the tense final minutes at a frenzied Madison Square Garden. The loudest roars went to Anthony, who screamed “This is my house!” after the second three-pointer in a place where he heard boos just last month.
He said Sunday’s big basket was one of the best of his career.
“This was one of the top,” he said. “Overtime, Easter Sunday, everybody’s watching, everybody’s in the Garden, so this ranks as one of the top.”
The Bulls trailed by 21 in the first quarter, fought back to lead by 10 in the fourth, then lost for the third time in four games despite having their starting five together for only the 11th time this season. Their NBA-best record fell to 43-14.
Rose scored 29 points after missing the previous 12 games with a strained right groin, but he shot only 8 of 26 from the field and missed a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left in regulation.
“It’s tough. It was definitely tough,” Rose said. “When you lose a game, especially for us, it’s tough.” It’s going to hurt us no matter who we lose to, but that team played great, man. They were knocking down shots. Didn’t give up when we went up that big lead. They kept fighting.”
The Knicks increased their lead over Milwaukee to one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They travel to Chicago on Tuesday, visit Milwaukee on Wednesday, and close a difficult week by hosting Miami next Sunday.
“I was proud of my teammates the way we stuck in there,” center Tyson Chandler said. “That’s a great team that we faced today. We knew they would battle back. You know, a lot of ups and downs in the game, but the one thing we did was keep our composure, kept believing in each other and we were able to will through to win.”
Iman Shumpert scored 15 points and JR Smith had 14 despite 6-of-22 shooting for the Knicks, still without the injured Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin but with a sensational effort from Anthony, who made 16 of 31 shots. Chandler grabbed 16 rebounds.
Carlos Boozer had 13 points and 16 boards for the Bulls, who fell to 9-2 with their regular starting five. Rose committed eight of the Bulls' 20 turnovers.
Rose had only seven points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, then scored 14 in the third quarter. After trailing the entire game, The Bulls finally took their lead in the final minute of the period, later going ahead 89-80 on Rose’s four-point play with 5:04 remaining in the fourth.
The Knicks were down 10 before Smith made a 3-pointer — his fourth basket in 21 attempts — and Anthony scored four in a row to make it 91-88. Luol Deng missed two free throws with 34 seconds left, and after Steve Novak’s potential tying 3-point attempt went all around the rim before coming out, Rose missed a pair from the line with 19 seconds to go.
Anthony rushed up the floor and pulled up for a long 3 that tied it at 91 with 11 seconds remaining, and it went to overtime when Rose missed everything on a jumper.
The Bulls took a pair of four-point leads on baskets by Rose, but was shut out after his jumper with 2:51 remaining. Anthony gave the Knicks a 100-99 lead with 8.2 seconds remaining and the Bulls had trouble getting into their offense on the final possession, with Rose forced to shoot and miss a tough runner as time expired.
The Bulls hadn’t had their regular five of Rose, Richard Hamilton, Boozer, Deng and Joakim Noah together since March 5 against Indiana. Hamilton left that game in the opening minutes with an injured right shoulder and only recently returned with his minutes closely monitored, and Rose was hurt a week later in a victory over the Knicks.
Their lack of cohesion was obvious early. The Bulls missed 11 of its first 12 shots and perhaps let the struggles affect their usual rock-solid defense. The Knicks started 12 of 16 from the floor, building a 27-6 lead when Shumpert converted a three-point play with 3:30 remaining in the period.
“We should be able to overcome all of that stuff,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You just have to do the right things. We do the right things, you’re not going to have those problems. You’re not going to have those turnovers. Simple plays: Protect the ball, keep the ball moving, quick decisions, hit the first open man, sustain your spacing, protect the ball, tuck it on the catch, fight for your space, get your space. Simple.”
The Bulls trailed 53-45 at even though Rose and Hamilton shot 2 of 11 and All-Star Deng was 3 of 10 while Anthony repeatedly beat him on his way to 22 points.
NOTES: Lin said before the game he was feeling good after surgery on his left knee Monday but didn’t think he could return in time for the first round of the playoffs. ... The Knicks hired former Knicks forward Larry Johnson as a basketball and business operations representative on Sunday. Johnson, who played with the Knicks from 1996-01 and converted a memorable four-point play in the 1999 Eastern Conference finals against Indiana, will focus on player development and be involved in numerous business initiatives. ... Jared Jeffries returned for the Knicks after missing eight games with a sore right knee.