MILWAUKEE (AP)—Joe Smith has a plea for all his dejected teammates and the anguished fans of the Milwaukee Bucks, who squandered home-court advantage in the playoffs by losing 89-87 to Toronto on Wednesday night.
Forgive and forget.
He wants everybody to focus on the surprising, energetic team that won twice as many games as expected, and not on the fatigued, jittery outfit that lost its poise and a fourth-quarter lead in the last three games.
A victory in any of the three would have secured the fourth playoff position in the East. Instead the Bucks fell to the sixth spot and will open the postseason Sunday at Detroit.
“We just have to realize this is the second season and we can’t just continue to harp on what we did these last three games,” Smith said. “We have to go into the playoffs with a high level of confidence and let’s go out there and slug it out.”
The crowd booed the Bucks at the end, but Smith said he hopes the fans forget the trio of letdowns “because a lot of people didn’t expect us to win 20 games.”
The Bucks began the night in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but both Miami and New Orleans leapfrogged them.
“We had destiny in our own hands,” Smith said. “For us to come up short is disappointing.”
After Jalen Rose’s wide-open 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left put the lottery-bound Raptors ahead 89-87, Michael Redd pulled up for a potential game-winning 3-pointer, but it banged off the right of the rim just before the buzzer.
With the shot clock off, Redd curiously gave the Raptors a chance to win it by driving to the hoop for a basket that gave Milwaukee an 87-86 lead but left Toronto with 13.5 seconds to set up the winning shot.
Redd then left Rose all alone in the left corner when Vince Carter drove in from the top of the key. Carter dished to Rose, who had an open look with Redd nowhere near him.
“At the end of the game, sometimes it’s human nature to automatically gravitate your eyes and your feet to the ball,” Rose said. “That’s just what I’m hoping. That’s why I’m just standing there. I’m perched. I’m not moving. I’m not calling his name. I’m not doing anything.
“I’m standing right there waiting to catch it and knock it down.”
He silenced the Bucks’ bench and their crowd by swishing the shot.
“It was interesting to hear their bench, their heads kind of dropped,” Rose said. “They worked so hard to (gain) home-court advantage, and that shot was the difference between playing at home and going to Detroit.”
Rose dedicated his game-winning shot to coach Kevin O’Neill, who isn’t expected to return for a second season despite the team’s nine-win improvement from a year ago.
“He’s been through a lot this season and never really got his true due,” Rose said. “He found a way to improve this team by about 10 wins with matchups and lineups changing nightly. We wanted to finish strong for K.O.”
The Bucks (41-41) wanted to finish strong to open the playoffs at home. But they lost to a depleted New Orleans team at home on Saturday night and at Cleveland on Monday night.
“Three games in a row,” Redd said. “All had chances to win. All close games and we lose, so we’re right there.”
Milwaukee coach Terry Porter spoke to his team for a long time after the latest loss.
“The big message was we had three opportunities to try to get the job done. For whatever reason, we didn’t get it done,” Porter said. “It’s disappointing. Now we have to regroup. We’re in the playoffs. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”
The Bucks took 75-67 lead into the fourth quarter but missed eight straight shots and Michael Curry’s 18-footer tied it at 81 with five minutes left.
Porter said he’s got to figure out quickly why the Bucks are going cold in the fourth quarter. Then he’s faced with fixing it against a team that won 54 games, second most in the East.
“We’ve been underdogs all year,” Porter said. “It’s nothing new to us.”
Mason tied his season high of 27 points by halftime. But he left the court at halftime holding his left hip after he was knocked over by Carter with 1:25 left. Mason was whistled for a foul on the play. … The teams combined for just one turnover in the first quarter.