MILWAUKEE — The Bulls have been stomping the confidence out of the up-and-coming Milwaukee Bucks throughout this season. Three previous meetings all resulted in losses for the Bucks, the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings.
Wednesday was their turn to stomp back.
Thanks to 21 points from Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks won 95-91 to end the Bulls’ three-game winning streak and their streak of nine victories at the Bradley Center. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 25 points.
More than just another game down the stretch, the series finale was significant. If the standings stay as is over the remaining two weeks, the Bucks and Bulls will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bucks played as if they’re not too worried about that possibility.
‘‘It was tough, just knowing that we gave them this last game,’’ Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. ‘‘They really fought for it. We’ve just got to adjust. Every game in the NBA is going to tell you something, tell you where you’re at, and this game tells us we’ve still got a long way to go.’’
Leading 94-91 with 1:07 left, the Bulls had two attempts to tie it with three-pointers, but Nikola Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy both missed.
After a missed shot by the Bucks, Mirotic again had a chance to come up big but missed a long-range attempt with 10 seconds left. The Bulls (45-30) were forced to play the foul game, and Giannis Antetokounmpo split a pair, all but icing the game.
There was even worse news for the already short-handed Bulls, as veteran reserve guard Kirk Hinrich was forced to leave in the third quarter and never returned. X-rays were negative, coach Tom Thibodeau said. Hinrich will be re-evaluated Thursday.
When Doug McDermott was recovering from knee surgery in January, he joked that this was the ‘‘redshirt season’’ he never got in college. The rookie might not have been far off.
Drafted 11th overall by the Denver Nuggets in last June’s draft before he was traded to the Bulls, McDermott missed his fourth consecutive game Wednesday, this time battling back spasms. Overall, he has played in just 35 games this season, whether it was the knee injury, the back or simply a coach’s decision.
He was averaging 9.1 minutes per game and 3.1 points.
Thibodeau said if need be, he would call extra practice time for Derrick Rose to get his conditioning up, but it wouldn’t involve regular rotation players.
‘‘If we get to that point, we’ll bring in some of the younger guys to do that, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re pacing the team properly,’’ Thibodeau said.