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Double fist pump, dagger help Bulls hold off Knicks

Thanks to the fourth-quarter heroics of veteran forward DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls survived a third-quarter meltdown to top New York 119-115.

NEW YORK — Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan normally isn’t into big, emotional gestures, but don’t credit the Knicks for changing that Thursday night.

It was the moment, not the opponent, that pulled one out of him.

With the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead — whittled down from 21 points late in the first half — DeRozan again came through as the finisher, taking the ball from Zach LaVine after a defensive rebound and going right into the heart of the Knicks’ defense for a driving layup with 20.1 seconds left.

DeRozan clinched both fists, gritted his teeth into a forced smile and gave a quick double-pump.

It was earned.

Thanks to 34 points from DeRozan and some late-game heroics, the Bulls beat the Knicks 119-115 at Madison Square Garden. Of DeRozan’s 34 points, 18 came in the fourth quarter, when they were needed most.

“Just going out there and competing with my team,” DeRozan said of his fist-pumping. “It could have been against anybody. It could have been somebody else that made the layup, and I would have done the same thing.

“We face adversity at times, and I feel good when we come out of that on top. It’s just big moments, and that was a moment there. It was a big bucket, kind of exciting just to get out of here. We were up, gave up a big lead, and just to pull it out at the end [was great].”

DeRozan was the right guy for the job.

“It just makes everything so much easier, just being able to give it to him in certain areas or having the trust of getting him the ball, getting out of his way, and, ‘I’ll be here if you need me,’ ” LaVine said.

Early on, it didn’t look like the Bulls (15-8) would need a hero at the end. They didn’t just appear ready at the opening tip — they looked hell-bent on sending a message, outscoring the Knicks 37-19 in the first quarter.

There wasn’t much let-up in the second quarter, as the Bulls extended the lead to 21 before taking a 69-51 advantage into halftime.

Then old habits showed themselves — much as they did in Portland and Houston — and the Knicks outscored the Bulls 32-20 in the third quarter.

“They ran off 25 point in six minutes, and I just think that, certainly being down 18 [at the half], New York was going to come out and ramp up the intensity,” coach Billy Donovan said. “We’ve got to do a better job of anticipating that.”

The final quarter was a back-and-forth, with the Knicks even taking a one-point lead after Julius Randle hit a 6-foot fadeaway with 3:18 left. DeRozan, however, had an answer.

“[DeRozan] give the whole team a sense of a deep breath,” LaVine said. “Like a ‘We’re OK.’ ”