Milwaukee — It’s tough to go on a long trip and come home empty handed. But the Pistons will do just that — with no wins and plenty of baggage to sort through.
They embarked on the trip with a sparkling 14-6 record and high hopes for the four-game trip against teams with winning records.
They return without a win, dropping their season-long fourth straight, 104-100, to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Andre Drummond had a season-high 27 points, with 20 rebounds and six assists, Tobias Harris added 21 points and Avery Bradley 20 for the Pistons (14-10). They don’t get a respite, with home matchups against the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Friday and Boston Celtics on Sunday.
“We have to keep our heads up. We can’t allow these losses to get us down. It’s a long season and we had a lot of success early in the year,” Drummond said. “This stretch is bound to happen and what we do with these rough patches will really show our character.
“We have to continue to play hard and stay ready.”
The Bucks (13-10) dominated the start of the fourth quarter, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, but had five turnovers. He scored eight in the fourth quarter, including an opening five during a 14-1 run. The Pistons went 0-for-10 and didn’t get their first field goal until Harris’ jumper at the 5:13 mark.
By then, the Bucks had jumped out to their largest lead, 90-77.
The Pistons weren’t done. Drummond followed a putback, Bradley added a three-point play and Drummond split a pair of free throws to trim the lead to six.
Milwaukee restored the lead to eight with a pair of baskets by Antetokounmpo, but Drummond got a lay-in and Harris a 3-pointer off a pass from Drummond to cut it to 95-92 at the 1:17 mark, before Eric Bledsoe (22 points) hit a 3-pointer to keep the Pistons at bay.
The Bucks got a combined 68 points from their trio of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Bledsoe, who carried them down the stretch, scoring their last 17 points. Rashad Vaughn added 11 points off the bench and Malcolm Brogdon 10.
“It’s a team game. Our bench did a really good job of responding,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “With all our young guns, Vaughn took advantage.”
The Pistons got within two on Bradley’s 3-pointer with 21.5 seconds remaining, but they had to foul the rest of the way and Middleton and Bledsoe went 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to close out the game.
The losses are piling up, but Bradley is keeping the skid in perspective, with two more tough challenges coming.
“It’s just frustrating. I felt like in a few games, we took steps forward in certain areas, but tonight it’s just unfortunate,” Bradley said. “We were playing OK in the first half and then in the second half, we just let it all go.
“They were shooting above 60 percent in the first half and we were still able to stay in the game. We came out in the third quarter, they got a lead and we couldn’t get back into the game.”
The Pistons gave up 30 points in each of the first two quarters and the Bucks shot 54 percent from the field in the half, including 43 percent (6-of-14) on 3-pointers. Milwaukee finished at 49 percent from the field.
Coach Stan Van Gundy pointed to the reserves, especially in that fourth-quarter drought, as a critical factor.
“It’s also who we had in the game, resting people. Our bench has not played very well on this trip and we may have to change up our rotations,” he said. “Our bench had been really good for us — and now, has not been.”
More observations from the Pistons-Bucks matchup:
■During the trip, the Pistons had their troubles with rebounding, on both ends of the court. In many cases, the opponents crashed the boards with all five players, while the Pistons depended on Drummond to carry the load, especially on the defensive glass. They turned things around, getting more than 10 offensive rebounds for the first time in the last seven games, finishing with 16.
■Van Gundy went back to his regular starting lineup, featuring Stanley Johnson at small forward. The switch in the Spurs game was just for a defensive matchup between Anthony Tolliver and LaMarcus Aldridge.
■Antetokounmpo celebrated his 23rd birthday Wednesday, getting a video tribute with greetings from friends, fans and athletes in his native country of Greece, with the salutations in both English and Greek.
■Bledsoe had a rough go in the second meeting, his first with the Bucks, on Nov. 15. He went 4-of-12 from the field and had 14 points. He found his shot Wednesday, going 6-of-10 for 14 points in the first half.
■Stanley Johnson finished 0-of-8 from the field, his worst game since going 0-of-13 in the opener. He added eight rebounds and five assists and had a plus-4 rating.