CHICAGO--It wasn't pretty, but the Milwaukee Bucks were in position to win Friday night against the Chicago Bulls.
Despite committing 29 fouls and trailing by as many as 15 in the second half, the Bucks cut the deficit to just one point with 5 minutes remaining. Then they went ice cold, missing their final 11 shots on the way to an 81-72 loss at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The Bucks didn't seem to know who to look to as the final minutes ticked away. Four players took shots during the 0-for-11 stretch, including Brandon Knight, who went 0 for 5. Khris Middleton committed a costly traveling turnover and Larry Sanders fouled out.
As has been the case at other points in the season, no one was able to step up in the final moments to get the team over the hump.
"Is it a luxury having a go-to guy? It is," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "But when you don't have that go-to guy you've got to be able to execute going down the stretch....We have to be better, be more efficient going down the stretch."
Knight, who as usual was the most assertive of the Bucks players, had a tough shooting night, going 5 for 21 overall. Most of those were good shots that normally fall for the team's scoring leader.
Still, he doesn't admit to feeling any extra pressure down the stretch. He believes that taking the shots at the end of the game is something that every player on the team can do.
"We just play basketball," said Knight, who finished with 12 points. "Whoever gets the opportunity or the shot, that's who is aggressive and takes it."
The Bucks began the game as the aggressor, but that shifted quickly. During the first quarter, the Bucks dominated the boards, disrupted plays on defense and overall worked harder to earn a seven-point advantage.
With some of their starters on the bench with foul issues, the Bucks faltered in the second quarter and slipped further into foul trouble. By halftime, the Bucks had 20 fouls for the first time in a half since 2008. Three starters -- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova and Sanders -- all had three fouls before the break.
The Bulls capitalized by making 22 of 28 free throws but only took a two-point lead into halftime.
"We have to be smarter with our fouls, clearly," Drew said. "When you look at the stat sheet the difference in the free throws is the difference in the game.
"The good thing was it was a two-point game; the bad thing was a couple of guys picked up three fouls. That's just a roll of the dice and sometimes you've got to take those types of chances."
The fouls abated a bit for the Bucks in the second half, but that's when their usual third-quarter malaise kicked in. Behind Carlos Boozer, who finished with 19 points, the Bulls pushed their lead to as much as 15 points in a quarter that saw the Bucks shoot a paltry 20 percent.
But still Milwaukee had a chance. O.J. Mayo scored seven of his 16 points during a 12-0 run spanning the late third and early fourth quarters that got the Bucks back into the game.
Shortly after that, though, the 0-for-11 cold spell did them in.
"That's the game of basketball," Ilyasova said. "We have to build confidence. Everybody is a little bit down as far as the season goes for us and we've lost a lot of close games, and it's kind of built up on us right now."
The Bucks won't get much of a reprieve from this loss as Saturday they will be in Oklahoma City taking on one of the top teams in the Western Conference in the Thunder.
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