NEW YORK (AFP) - Jimmy Butler did all he could, but the Chicago Bulls' defensive lapses proved too costly to overcome in a damaging 106-107 National Basketball Association (NBA) loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday (April 8).
Butler scored 33 points, but the Bulls' bid to rally from a lacklustre first-half were doomed by their inability to put the brakes on the Nets in the final five minutes.
"Jimmy played amazing down the stretch," said Chicago guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 14 points in his return after missing 11 games with a broken right elbow.
"He hit a lot of big shots for us. We just needed some stops."
After their slow start, the Bulls finally seized the lead for the first time midway through the third quarter.
Nikola Mirotic's three-point play on a fast break gave them a 97-88 lead with 4min 24sec to play.
But Chicago didn't score again for more than two minutes, when Butler's jump shot gave them a 99-98 lead.
In the meantime, Nets rookie Caris LeVert hit back-to-back three-pointers and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made two layups.
The Bulls were unable to respond.
Butler's two free throws gave Chicago a 101-98 lead with 1min 36sec to play, but it would be their last lead of the game.
Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie drained a three-pointer with 83 seconds left to tie the game at 101-101.
After Butler tied it again at 103-103, Dinwiddie made four free throws to cap a 19-point performance and make Butler's three-pointer with one second left too little, too late.
"We've got to figure out a way to pull these games out in the end, get stops and score some baskets in the end," Butler said.
The Bulls' defeat assured the Atlanta Hawks of a play-off berth, one day after the Hawks stunned the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
It also left the Bulls one game behind the seventh-placed Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference and locked in a battle for the eighth and final play-off spot with the Miami Heat, who edged the Washington Wizards 106-103 on Saturday.
The Heat and Bulls have matching 39-41 records with two games apiece left to play in the regular season, but Chicago own the tiebreaker between the two.
Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 90-82 to clinch a play-off spot.
Antetokounmpo scored eight of his points in the third quarter, when the Bucks (41-39) outscored the Sixers 25-12 to seize command and snap a three-game losing skid.
The Bucks began the night needing a victory and a loss by Chicago, Indiana or Miami to secure their second post-season berth in three years.
Greg Monroe added 17 points off the bench for Milwaukee, which held Philadelphia to 35 per cent shooting, including just 25 per cent from beyond the arc.