You don’t have to believe him if you don’t want to. He claims he meant to do it, no matter how unlikely that seems.
But intentional or not, Mike Dunleavy’s banked-in 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds remaining beat the Bucks on Friday night, and the way things have been going for the Bulls, they’ll take a victory any way they can get it.
“When it left my hand, I thought it had a good chance of going in,” Dunleavy said after the game. “I thought it was going to bank in because (Bucks center John) Henson was out there and I had to get it up over his outstretched hand, and the second if left my hand, if I needed to call bank I would’ve called bank.”
In a matchup between two floundering, injury-ravaged Central Division foes, the Bulls overcame some sloppy play in the second and third quarters to came back and beat the Bucks, 91-90, in what turned out to be a thrilling finish at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
In a wild final minute, Dunleavy banked in the 27-footer to give the Bulls a one-point lead, their first lead since the second quarter. Bucks guard O.J. Mayo got the inbound and went coast-to-coast to try for the game-winner but his buzzer-beating runner was blocked by Joakim Noah, who, despite Dunleavy’s H-O-R-S-E-shot heroics, was easily the MVP of the game.
Noah finished with 21 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks, none bigger than the last one, in the victory, just the Bulls’ third in their last 12 games.
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“We made a couple good, smart plays at the end and were able to come out on top,” Dunleavy said. “I mean, it’s great. It’s not a bad feeling, especially with the way things have gone for us. Some tough losses on and off the court the last few weeks. We all knew how much we needed this one.”
After falling 78-74 at home to the Bucks three days earlier, the Bulls were able to salvage a split for the week aided by the returns of Jimmy Butler and Noah, both of whom missed the first contest due to injuries.
Both Noah, who was back on the court in Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks, and Butler, who’d been out the previous 11 games with turf toe, made their presences felt early. Butler led all scorers in the first quarter with seven points and three steals, showing aggressiveness and a zeal that had been missing during Chicago’s two-week swoon.
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“(I) was just being aggressive,” Butler said in the locker after the game, his right foot submerged in a bucket of ice water. “Testing my body because I haven’t practiced in a while now.”
On the Bucks’ second possession of the game, Noah stole an entry pass in to John Henson, who’d manhandled Chicago on Tuesday with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Thirty seconds later, Noah glided to the basket for a layup, and it seemed the Bulls would be able to use their interior size and strength advantage, which they didn’t have three nights prior with Noah out.
And while Butler cooled off, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting and an almost game-costing slip-and-fall turnover with 19 seconds remaining, Noah remained dominant. Although the Bulls settled for too many long-range shots -- shooting just 29.2 percent on 24 three-point attempts -- when they missed, Noah was there to clean up, and when they went inside, he was an offensive force.
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Carlos Boozer was also a handful for the Bucks inside, putting up 14 points and 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
It was a strange game of vastly different quarters, one in which raucous Bulls fans seemed to outnumber the home Bucks fans, especially late, when booming “Let’s go Bulls” chants reverberated through the usually subdued Bradley Center, particularly in the final minute. Chicago led 26-18 after the first quarter, but the Bucks outscored the Bulls by 15 points over the next two quarters to take a seven-point lead heading into the final quarter.
Butler said his toe was sore after playing 36 minutes in his first back (“That’s Tom Thibodeau for you,” he said), but he felt good, especially with a win in his first game back. The Bulls had lost nine of 11 in his absence, and Butler said they got back to their style of play against Milwaukee.
“We’re getting back to that high pace, getting up and down,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go but we’re moving in the right direction.
“You never take any of these (wins) for granted, especially an away game, against a rival like this in the division,” Butler said. “A win’s a win. We’ve been in a little bit of a slump, we all know that.”
A win thanks to Butler’s energetic return, Noah’s big game and Dunleavy’s big bank shot, which he still claims he did on purpose.
“Honestly, 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. The second it left my hand I thought it was going to be banked in and I wasn’t surprised when it happened at all," Dunleavy said.
“I think other people were, but I just tried to get it up over Henson and I did. 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.”