Bill Laimbeer, their biggest slammer, scored six of his 19 points in the final minute, and the Pistons held Milwaukee to 11 points in the fourth period to beat the Bucks, 85-80, in the first game of their second-round playoff series.
"The fourth quarter is when games are decided a lot of times," Laimbeer said. "Teams get tired. Guys don't take the same shot in the fourth quarter, when they're tired and two guys are hanging on them, that they made earlier."
In the fourth quarters of their last three playoff games, the Pistons have outscored the opposition, 71-36.
Ricky Pierce, who came off the bench to lead the Bucks with 25 points, missed two free throws with 42 seconds left and Detroit leading, 81-80, forcing Milwaukee to foul intentionally.
"I thought he'd make both free throws," Laimbeer said. "But he didn't. That's part of the game."
Pierce admitted he was tired at that point.
"I didn't put all my legs into it," Pierce said.
Laimbeer, who scored Detroit's final six points, sank four free throws the rest of the way for the final margin.
"I thought both teams played awfully hard," Buck Coach Del Harris said. "It's going to be rough, tough basketball."
The Bucks, who eliminated Atlanta in the first round largely on the strength of their free-throw shooting, missed seven of 20 free throws against Detroit and were outrebounded, 53-31.
The best-of-seven series resumes at the Palace Friday.
"Detroit is traditionally a good third-quarter team and a very good fourth-quarter team," Milwaukee's Sidney Moncrief said. "We should have anticipated that a little better."
It was the fourth consecutive playoff game that the Pistons had held the opposition to 13 points or less in a quarter. The Boston Celtics had 10, 13 and 12 points in a period as they lost three straight games to Detroit.