NEW YORK -- The Knicks gave their fan base the best present it could've hoped for during a Christmas Day matinee against the Bulls on Saturday: They played defense.
For the second straight game, Mike D'Antoni's club beat a quality opponent behind a stifling effort on defense. Wednesday night, they clamped down on Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Saturday, they held Chicago scoreless over a key eight-minute stretch in the fourth quarter to seal their second straight win.
Is it fair to start to expect this kind of effort on defense from D'Antoni's team?
"We've been talking about defense for the whole year, but more so for the past week," Amare Stoudemire said after the Knicks' 103-95 win. "And it's really showing."
Stoudemire finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high six blocked shots. His presence in the paint helped spur the Knicks' effort on defense in the fourth quarter, when they took control of a close game.
Derrick Rose made it 87-87 with an 18-foot jump shot with 10:10 to go in the fourth. The Knicks then forced the Bulls to miss their next 12 shots and reeled off 10 straight points to seal their second straight win. They held the Bulls to just 12 points in the fourth, a season low for a Knicks opponent.
"We forced turnovers, and shots that they normally probably get in weren't [going in]," said Raymond Felton, who scored 20 points, handed out 12 assists and had five steals. "We [were] getting out on fast breaks, running back at 'em. It was just fun basketball."
The impressive defensive stand was highlighted by Stoudemire's block on a Luol Deng layup attempt. That play was sandwiched between Wilson Chandler (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Felton forcing Rose into one of the Chicago
point guard's seven turnovers and Stoudemire drawing a charge on Carlos Boozer.
"We did a great job pressuring the ball, forcing them into making mistakes," Felton said.
But the Knicks didn't just show up for an eight-minute stretch in the fourth. They shut down Chicago, which came in having won nine of 10 and averaging 100.4 points per game, for large stretches of the game.
They held the Bulls to 44 percent shooting, including an unsightly 26 percent from beyond the arc. They blocked 10 shots, marking the sixth time this season they've blocked at least that many. They also forced 21 turnovers, which helped offset a careless afternoon with the ball (24 turnovers).
It's just a snapshot, but all of these numbers offer evidence that the Knicks can compete on the defensive end. Those words aren't often associated with a D'Antoni-coached team.
"We're getting better and that was our goal from the start," Stoudemire said. "Just to always continue to improve."
D'Antoni's club entered play Saturday leading the NBA in scoring at 108 points per game. As long as Stoudemire and Felton remain healthy, that isn't likely to change much.
But they also took the floor Saturday ranked 28th in points allowed per game, giving up an average of 107.
If you believe what you've seen the past two games, it's fair to expect that number to change. One stop at time.
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.