By Drew Olson Special to Published May 02, 2006 at 1:42 AM

If the Milwaukee Bucks played their final home game of the 2006 season Monday night –- and it seems exceedingly likely that they did -- at least they followed the time-honored show business mandate.

They left the crowd wanting more.

Displaying a combination of grit, cohesion and determination that seemed to elude them for long stretches of the regular season, the Bucks gave heavily-favored Detroit all it could handle before dropping a 109-99 decision at the Bradley Center.

The Pistons, clearly embarrassed by a 20-point loss two nights earlier, took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series that they hope to extinguish Wednesday night at their suburban Palace.

"You could tell they were a lot more focused tonight," Bucks point guard T.J. Ford said of the Pistons, who took a 15-point lead in the first half and withstood a gallant comeback by the Bucks when Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton sank three-pointers 38 seconds apart with the game on the line.

"They tried to come in here and get the game over with in the first half, but we were able to bounce back and we were able to hold our ground and stop their runs," Ford said. "We competed. That’s all you can ask, is for us to compete at the highest level of the game."

Once they forget the frustration of 16 turnovers and distance themselves from the disappointment of the bad bounces and rimmed shots that led to their demise, the Bucks should have a clear view of both the progress they’ve made and the distance left to cover.

A handful of Milwaukee’s key players -- Ford, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Bell, Bobby Simmons and Mo Williams -- are appearing in the post-season for the first time. A dip into the stat pack shows that graybeard Toni Kukoc played in his 130th playoff game Monday. That’s three more games than Ford has played in the regular season during his injury-shortened career (127).

"Playoffs is a better level of basketball," guard Michael Redd said. "Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to describe."

The dry erase board in the Bucks locker room read: "Urgency. Passion. Focus. Will. The more aggressive team usually wins." Experience helps, too, and although the youngest Bucks have gained plenty in the past 10 days the playoff schedule simply doesn’t allow a lot of time to digest the lessons.

The Bucks, who out-shot and out-rebounded their opponent Monday, will have several months during the long, languid NBA summer to learn from the mistakes they’ve made in their post-season setbacks against Detroit and perhaps a little time to consider the cost of those late-season losses against putrid outfits like New York, Toronto, Orlando and Atlanta.

All the Bucks have to do now is figure out a way to extend their season by winning a game on a court where the home team went 37-4 during the regular season.

"It’s win or go home. Enough said,’’ Redd said.

Although Redd paced the home team with 33 points, it was Ford who drove the Bucks’ engine. The point guard shook off five first-half turnovers, drained seven of eight shots and scored 16 points to spark a 31-23 third-quarter surge that got the attention of his counterpart, Billups.

"When he's got it going, he’s a tough cover,’’ Billups said of Ford. "Because he was hitting that jump shot, I wanted to be aggressive when he was guarding me and try to take him to the hole and make them double-team (me) and create for everyone else. They weren’t really double-teamming, so I was being aggressive and trying to score the ball.’’

Billups did that particularly well, finishing with 34 points to lead five Detroit players in double figures, including backup center Antonio McDyess, who scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while filling in for foul-plagued starter Ben Wallace.

“We didn’t take many bad shots in the fourth quarter,’’ Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "We took some bad ones in the third. When it came down to crunch time, we moved the ball , got open looks, got mismatches got to the free throw line and did the things we needed to do.’’

In other words, the Pistons did the things that championship teams do. Here's hoping that the Bucks took notes.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.