Pistons Rally Past Heat, Mourning Injured
Detroit 82, Miami 73
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., March 22 (Ticker) -- It wasn't any of their four All-Stars that pushed the Detroit Pistons past the Miami Heat. It was Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess.
Prince and McDyess took over the offense in the decisive fourth quarter as the Pistons sent a message to the Heat with an 82-73 victory that clinched their fourth Central Division title in five years.
Detroit also used its trademark defense as it limited Miami to 30 points in the second half and silenced Heat All-Star guard Dwyane Wade, who managed 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
"That was Detroit basketball," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "The more we played against them, the more we understood their sets and we were able to contest their shots. If we play lock-down defense like we did tonight, we can play with these guys."
Both teams downplayed the significance of the game, despite its postseason feel.
"It's no statement. It's just another game," Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace said. "Statements won't be made until the playoffs."
"I think we know who we are," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "We're disappointed with the loss because we caught them at the end of a tough trip. We came out strong but we couldn't finish it."
Miami held a 64-62 lead with 8:48 remaining on a follow shot by Shaquille O'Neal, who had 27 points and 10 rebounds. McDyess responded with a pair of mid-range jumpers and Prince drove the baseline for a layup and a 68-64 lead with 6:17 remaining.
O'Neal tipped in a miss by Wade, but McDyess sank another jumper and Prince backed down Shandon Anderson for a bucket and a 72-66 advantage with 4:52 to go.
"In the second half, we did a good job defensively," Prince said. "When we picked up the defense, we started to hit some shots."
"I kept waiting for Ben (center Ben Wallace) to come back in," McDyess said. "I guess (coach) felt that if things were going good, you have to stick with it. I was just trying to make things happen."
With the Heat mired in a stretch of 5 1/2 minutes without a basket, Richard Hamilton made a layup, Prince backed down Wade for a dunk and Rasheed Wallace scored for a 78-68 bulge with 1:06 to play.
In the fourth quarter, Miami made four shots - a pair of 3-pointers by Antoine Walker and a pair of follow shots by O'Neal. The Heat scored no baskets off their initial half-court sets.
"There are no excuses," Riley said. "We played really well in the first half attacking, but I was concerned with the turnovers. In the second half, they just ratcheted up the pressure. They were pressing Shaq, denying Dwyane and we did a very poor job of executing offense against pressure.
"A lot of times we try to get the ball to our guys, but other people have to be assertive and drive the gaps and be players. We didn't do that in the second half."
Saunders said it was important to contain Wade, who scored 17 straight fourth-quarter points against the Pistons on Feb. 12, rallying the Heat to a 100-98 victory.
"I think it means something because in this league confidence means so much," Saunders said. "You never want a player to have so much confidence that he feels he can take over a game at any time. The positive thing about this is that he's not going to think he can walk out on the floor and score 17 straight against us."
Wade felt that the Pistons might have gotten away with a few things on defense.
"I missed some shots that I normally make," Wade said. "They pressured me and they got away with the things the Pistons get away with. Early in the game, I let them deny me too much, but in the second half, I was trying to get open and get things going, but it wasn't happening."
Prince and Hamilton scored 17 points each and McDyess added nine for Detroit, which shot less than 35 percent (29-of-83) from the field but committed just five turnovers while forcing 15. Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace had 10 rebounds each.
Walker scored 13 points for Miami (45-23), which shot 38 percent (28-of-74) and has lost consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 16-20.
"Their defense was fresh, energized, committed," Riley said. "They knew where we were going to go with the ball and they took it away."
Miami lost more than a game. Backup center Alonzo Mourning, who gives the Heat a terrific defensive presence, tore his left calf muscle in his left leg and is out indefinitely.
"It's going to be very tough without him, but Dolie (Michael Doleac) will step up and Zo can get some rest and come back strong," O'Neal said.
O'Neal scored 14 points to help Miami open a 43-35 halftime lead. His bucket extended the advantage to 49-37 with 8:39 left in the third quarter before the Pistons stormed back behind Hamilton and Billups, who combined for 16 points in a 20-7 surge.
A 3-pointer by Hamilton gave Detroit a 57-56 lead with 1:13 remaining in the period.