CHICAGO — A new rivalry lives in the present.
In a classic reminiscent of the Bulls-Knicks wars of the 1990s, the Knicks nearly choked it all away in the final three minutes at a deafening United Center. But they hung on for a a 104-103 win Thursday night when a game-winning jumper in the last seconds by DeMar DeRozan over RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson became an airball.
The Knicks blew almost all of a late 13-point lead, giving the Bulls a chance to win it on a last possession.
Julius Randle was fouled but missed both free throws, and the Bulls had the ball with 4.8 seconds left. The Knicks, though, made one big defensive stop to escape.
The Bulls made the more splashier moves in the offseason, but they chose to pay point guard Lonzo Ball the moment free agency began and never considered Kemba Walker.
At least for the here and now, that looks like a big Chitown mistake.
In his second straight potent outing, Walker lit up from the 3-point line, draining 5 of 6 3s. Walker finished with a season-high 21 points as the Knicks ruined “Joakim Noah Night’’ by grinding their way to the win over the previously unbeaten Bulls.
The Knicks moved to 4-1 as did the Bulls, who had an easy schedule in compiling their unbeaten mark. The Knicks have triumphs over the Celtics, Magic, 76ers and Bulls in their best start since the 2012-13 season.
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Ball, whom the Knicks decided to pass on without making an offer in free agency, scored just six points on 2-for-8 shooting — 1 of 6 from 3-point range — and had four assists. But he did play good defense late coming up with two steals while matched on Randle.
Barrett scored 20 points and was terrific force on the fast break. The Knicks didn’t need a big scoring night from Randle, but almost got a triple-double despite his wayward shot and free-throw yips at the end. Randle posted 13 points, nine assists and 16 rebounds, along with four turnovers.
This was a litmus test the Knicks barely passed, a big road win against a top opponent — something they never seemed to achieve when Noah was on their side.
Ex-Bull Derrick Rose, when he checked in for Walker in the first quarter, received a standing ovation and chants of “M-V-P.’’ On a night Walker did the heavy lifting, Rose still quieted the Chicago crowd by draining a 3 late in the third period to put the Knicks ahead 81-69.