MILWAUKEE — Mike Dunleavy’s 3-pointer to beat his former team in his first trip back to Milwaukee will lead the highlights and many of the stories written about Friday night’s game, but the Bucks felt a last-second shot shouldn’t have decided things.
To the Bucks, they lost because of a failure to execute in the final minutes. A costly foul, a bad shot and a key turnover led to Dunleavy’s banked in 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds left to push Chicago to a 91-90 win at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“We just didn’t make plays going down the stretch,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “We had too many bad possessions. You can’t have that going down the stretch of a game.”
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A nifty bounce pass from John Henson led to an Ekpe Udoh dunk to put the Bucks up 88-83 with 1:30 to play. Just seven seconds later, O.J. Mayo fouled Dunleavy on a 3-point attempt and the former Bucks forward hit all three free throws to cut it to 88-86.
One possession later, Mayo forced a long 3-pointer that led to a Carlos Boozer jumper on the other end to tie the game with 48.3 seconds left.
“Just two bad plays,” Drew said. “The shot was not a good shot and you can’t foul a 3-point shooter in that situation, you just can’t do it.”
The Bucks followed up with a disaster of a possession out of a timeout but were bailed out by a Khris Middleton left-handed runner with the shot clock expiring to give them a 90-88 lead with 29.8 to play.
It appeared as if another prayer shot was going to lead Milwaukee to a win over Chicago for the second time this week. But afterwards, Drew was miffed about how the Bucks ran the play he drew up out of the timeout.
“We can’t expect to win on lucky shots every time we take the floor,” Drew said. “We have to learn how to execute and more importantly understand what is going on in the huddle during timeouts so we can execute out on the floor.”
The Bucks forced the Bulls into a turnover on the ensuing possession when Jimmy Butler traveled falling down after Mayo pulled the chair out from under him. All Milwaukee needed to do was inbound the ball, get fouled and hit two free throws to win, but Joakim Noah tied up Gary Neal to force a jump ball.
Noah may have gotten away with a headlock on the play, but he won the jump easily over the smaller Neal. The Bulls had 16.2 seconds to run a play and fed Dunleavy coming off the screen.
“Honestly, with Henson switching out, I wanted to get it over him so I got a lot of arc on it and it went straight as an arrow and banked in,” Dunleavy said. “The second it left my hand I felt it was good. I thought it was going in.
“I thought it was going to be banked in, and I wasn’t surprised when it happened at all. I think other people were, but just tried to get it up over Henson. He is so long. If I would have shot my normal shot he might have got a piece of it, so I guess I’m telling you I took a bad shot and it went in.”
The victory was Chicago’s seventh in a row in Milwaukee, matching the Bulls’ longest-ever streak of consecutive road victories against the Bucks. Once again, many Bulls fans made the short trip up to Milwaukee for the game.
“They had a large following in (the arena) as well,” Henson said. “It almost felt like they had a home game.
“It was a Bulls crowd tonight. It’s frustrating but it is what it is.”
Drew acknowledged Friday’s loss stung, particularly because the Bucks were in position to win the game and didn’t close the Bulls out. Milwaukee had a chance to beat Chicago for the second time this week and couldn’t quite get the job done.
“This is a tough one, man,” Henson said. “At this point in the season we need every win. Losses like this could really hurt us toward the end of the season, especially the way the East is going. This one is going to sting a little bit more than most of them.”
Sanders cleared: Bucks center Larry Sanders was cleared for basketball activity Friday, but the team still plans to take his return from surgically-repaired torn ligament in his right thumb slowly.
“I haven’t been given a timetable but I was watching him this morning,” Drew said. “He was in the gym early this morning working out. I know he has been fitted with some type of a glove. They’re working with him on something as simple as catching the ball.
“But they’re still going to bring him along slowly with that. They don’t want to rush it because there’s still the danger of the thumb being bent back or him falling on it.”
Sanders was injured in an altercation at a Milwaukee nightclub on Nov. 3 and hasn’t played since. He had surgery on his right thumb on Nov. 11.
Under the knife: Bucks forward Carlos Delfino will have surgery on his right foot Saturday in Argentina, the second procedure he’s had since fracturing the foot in last year’s playoffs.
Delfino took to his website on Nov. 10 to announce that the setback suffered in his fractured right foot will cause him to miss the entire season. The Bucks have yet to officially rule the 31-year-old out for the year.
Signed to a two-year deal with a team option for a third season during the summer, Delfino hasn’t played in a game this year. He first developed pain in his right foot with a month left in last year’s regular season and fractured the foot while dunking in Game 5 of Houston’s first-round playoff loss to Oklahoma City.
Neal returns: After missing two games due to plantar fasciitis and pain caused in the heel by a cortisone shot, Bucks guard Gary Neal played 19 minutes off the bench Friday.
Neal provided instant offense, scoring eight points in a 12-2 run that gave Milwaukee a lead in the second quarter. He finished with 17 points and went five-of-nine from the field.
“He was moving around pretty well,” Drew said. “He was really coming off screens with aggression, made some nice plays going to the basket. Once he gets his feet set, I think he’s as good of shooter as there is in the league. It was really encouraging to see him play at the speed in which he was playing.”
Mayo uncertain: O.J. Mayo played Friday’s game with a heavy heart after learning of the passing of his grandmother earlier in the day.
He sent a text to Drew informing him of the news and that he wouldn’t be at Friday’s morning shootaround. The Bucks coach didn’t know if Mayo would be able to return in time for the game, but he did.
Mayo’s status for Saturday’s game in Dallas remained up in the air Friday night, as he and his family were working on funeral arrangements.