AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said matter-of-factly before Friday's game at Detroit that his team needed to win out to make the postseason.
His players took that attitude to heart.
Drew Gooden scored 26 points, and Milwaukee pulled away from the Pistons in the third quarter for a much-needed 113-97 victory Friday night.
From start to finish, the Bucks played as if their season was on the line. Milwaukee is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, trailing the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers by two games.
"We talked about that this morning, that no matter who it is, it's a playoff game for us," Gooden said. "We can't just worry about the New York Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers."
The Pistons didn't give Milwaukee much to worry about. The Bucks led 52-47 after two quarters but pushed the lead to double digits early in the second half and eventually led by 20. Detroit fought back to get within 12 after three, but Milwaukee maintained a comfortable advantage throughout the final quarter.
Brandon Jennings had 20 points and 10 assists for Milwaukee, which had all five starters score in double figures.
"Tonight they were the only ones playing with desperation and urgency," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. "We started feeling a little sorry for ourselves, and they took advantage of it."
Brandon Knight scored 25 points for the Pistons, and Ben Gordon added 24.
After two straight losses, including a crucial one at home to the Knicks on Wednesday, Milwaukee would have been in big trouble with a loss Friday. But the Bucks hounded the Pistons early with pressure defense and took control well before the fourth quarter.
"Even though it was a tight game the first six minutes of the game, we liked our energy," Skiles said. "We thought we were upbeat and we were going to bring it tonight, and we did."
Milwaukee has seven games remaining, including one against the 76ers.
The Pistons led 16-11 early, but the Bucks seemed to get a hand on every Detroit pass for a brief stretch. Carlos Delfino stole the ball and dunked at the other end to put Milwaukee up 17-16. Moments later, Gooden added a steal of his own that led to a dunk by Monta Ellis.
"They made everything hard for us. We were even having trouble with dribble handoffs, because they were denying every inch of the floor," Frank said. "They definitely imposed their will on the game."
The Pistons turned the ball over six times in the first quarter, but they managed to stay in the game until the third. Gooden's shot from the perimeter gave the Bucks a 61-51 lead, and Ersan Ilyasova added a 3-pointer to make it 72-56.
"With Monta and Brandon Jennings, they put a lot of pressure on you, and when Drew gets things going like that, they are coming at you from every direction," Gordon said. "You have to give them credit."
It was 83-63 after a 3-pointer by Mike Dunleavy. Detroit then went on an 8-0 run, but that was the only major push from the Pistons.
Ellis scored 18 points and Delfino had 16. Ilyasova contributed 14.
Milwaukee had 36 assists and only eight turnovers. Gooden had eight assists and Ellis added seven.
Greg Monroe had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons.
NOTES: Milwaukee went 14 of 25 from the field in the third quarter, including four 3-pointers. ... New York beat Washington 103-65, but Philadelphia lost to New Jersey 95-89 to fall a game closer to Milwaukee. ... Gooden finished 12 of 18 from the field.