Dunleavy had 27 points and 11 rebounds and the Pacers kept their faint postseason hopes alive by edging the Milwaukee Bucks 105-101 on Friday night.
“At this point in the season, if you still have a chance to get in there, there’s tons of motivation,” Dunleavy said. “There’s six games to go now. Hey, we’re mathematically alive, so we have got to keep fighting.”
Indiana pulled within three games of Atlanta for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks lost 109-104 to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Michael has had an extraordinary year for us,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “Everything we have asked him to do, he has done at a very high level. He’s a clutch performer.”
Dunleavy, who had 12 points in the fourth, made a huge 3-pointer after the Bucks cut it to 84-82 midway through the quarter. Dunleavy’s two free throws made it 98-89 with just under 3 minutes to play.
The Bucks didn’t quit, though.
Ramon Sessions came off the bench to spark the Bucks in the closing seconds with two layups and a free throw. Michael Redd, who led Milwaukee with 28 points, converted a layup with 11.4 seconds left to cut Indiana’s lead to three, but Dunleavy made one of two free throws to seal the victory.
“There were a lot of runs, so we couldn’t really ever put them out of reach,” Dunleavy said. “They didn’t stop fighting.”
Neither did Dunleavy.
“Mike is the most improved player,” teammate Jermaine O’Neal said. “What Mike did tonight, I wasn’t surprised because I have seen him do it all year.”
In the third quarter, the scoreboard flashed the Philadelphia score, but the Pacers didn’t care.
“We shouldn’t need any more motivation to play hard,” said O’Neal, who had 11 points and six turnovers in his third game back after missing 33 with a sore left knee. “We put ourselves in a tough situation. When we see a team like Atlanta lose that’s been hot, it makes that game count that much more.”
The Pacers have six games remaining, including matchups with the Bucks on Sunday and the Hawks on Tuesday night.
Andrew Bogut added 21 points and 16 rebounds for Milwaukee.
Bobby Simmons made two free throws to cut Indiana’s lead to 77-75 but Dunleavy hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 9:10 to go.
“We couldn’t quite get over the top,” Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “They do a nice job defensively. It’s a team concept.”
Dunleavy’s three-point play gave Indiana a 13-point lead late in the second quarter, and the Pacers led 53-46 at the half.
Bucks rookie F Yi Jianlian will miss the rest of the season with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He hurt his knee early in the first quarter of Milwaukee’s victory over the Wizards on Wednesday. … Jeff Foster grabbed 16 rebounds for Indiana.