Maybe it was just a coincidence that one night after Derrick Rose sat out the fourth quarter of a 16-point loss to the 76ers, the Bulls' fatigable but irrepressible point guard found a second-wind in the fourth quarter and carried his team to a nerve-wracking 105-102 victory over the New York Knicks on Thursday night.
Or maybe not. Maybe Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau -- whether it was by design or not -- made the prudent move when he ostensibly gave up a long shot at beating the Sixers to keep Rose fresher for the Knicks. That's the way it played out at Madison Square Garden as Rose recovered from a sluggish third quarter to play a spirited fourth quarter as the Bulls barely fended off Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and the stubborn Knicks.
Rose, who had made 2-of-7 shots from the field in the third quarter and missed both of his three-point attempts, scored 15 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to will the Bulls to a lead they barely hung on to.
Rose also had three key defensive rebounds in the fourth quarter -- he had grabbed just two boards in the previous 11 quarters -- and added two assists to give him 13 for the game.
In a post-lockout season that even Thibodeau admits is ''a different sort of season,'' the Bulls might do well to rest Rose whenever they can. It sure seemed to make a difference against the Knicks.
''I guess [it helped]. Rest is always a good thing,'' Rose said. ''But knowing that we lost last night, I definitely wanted to come out here and play good tonight.''
Rose seemed to turn it on at will against the Knicks. He was 0-for-3 on three-point shots after three quarters -- and 3-of-17 in his last six games -- but nailed a three-pointer that beat the shot clock in the first minute of the fourth quarter to give the Bulls an 80-75 lead. He scored 11 more points, including a lightning-quick left-handed scoop on a drive and a pull-up three-pointer that gave the Bulls a 95-88 lead.
''I really wasn't forcing it,'' Rose said. "I'm always put in that position, where I'm one of the leaders in the fourth quarter. My teammates have confidence in me to take over the game in the fourth quarter and that's all I do is try.''
But Stoudemire (34 points on 16-of-27 shooting, 11 rebounds) and Anthony (26 points on 10-of-26 shooting) kept the Knicks close and it wasn't over until Anthony's 33-foot three-pointer clanked off the front of the rim as time ran out.
''You have to find a way,'' Thibodeau said. ''The good teams in this league find ways to win games. We were fortunate tonight because we were able to score. We have to continue to improve on defense.''
The Bulls had other heroes. Joakim Noah (16 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots) and Taj Gibson had key blocked shots in the final two minutes. Kyle Korver (16 points, 3-of-5 three-pointers) hit two free throws that gave the Bulls a 103-100 lead with 13 seconds left.
C.J. Watson (12 points) scored 10 points in place of Rose as the Bulls opened a 55-44 halftime lead. And rookie Jimmy Butler hit a critical jump shot with 1:10 to go and held up well while playing all but nine seconds of the fourth quarter.
''We stayed together. We are a team,'' Rose said. ''When we have tough situations, that's when we come together and fight through it.''