Flawed Fourth

15-0 run to start 4th allows Miami to escape with win over Pistons

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Rip Hamilton scored 27 points for his best outing since he scored 35 in his first game coming off the bench back on Dec. 22 at Toronto to lead the Pistons, shooting 9 of 16. Hamilton’s corner triples from the same spot on back-to-back possessions late in the third quarter gave the Pistons an eight-point lead after Miami had crept to within two at 72-70. But the Pistons’ cold fourth quarter even affected Hamilton, who was 8 of 12 going into the quarter but missed his first three shots of the fourth, including a wide-open corner triple – from the same spot where he’d hit those two in the third opposite the Miami bench – out of a timeout with 4:53 left and the Pistons down by five.

BLUE COLLAR – Greg Monroe picked up his 17th double-double of the season and his second straight, putting up 14 points and 12 boards in 35 minutes. When he was matched against veteran centers Erick Dampier and Jamal Magloire, he rendered them invisible; they combined for three points and four rebounds in 27 total minutes. Monroe, like Hamilton, had a costly miss, though, failing to lay in Rodney Stuckey’s missed short jumper when he grabbed the rebound in the lane with 32 seconds left and the Pistons trailing by four.

RED FLAG – Leading by eight points to start the fourth quarter, the Pistons – with an all-bench unit of Ben Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell on the floor – went 0 of 6 with two turnovers on their first eight possessions. That opened the door for Miami to go on a 15-0 run and grab a seven-point lead. Kuester brought most of his starters back at that point and they battled back to within four, but the damage had been done. After shooting 60 percent through three quarters, the Pistons shot just 4 of 19 in the fourth.

When a team has 70 games in the books, its personality is set as surely as a man’s would be at age 70. The Pistons’ personality began forming in the season’s first game, when they had a seven-point lead with 100 seconds on the clock and lost at New Jersey. On a night they played 42 mostly terrific minutes against an NBA title contender, six thoroughly flawed ones gutted their opportunity to score perhaps the season’s best win.

Miami opened the fourth quarter on a 15-0 run to turn an eight-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The Heat had taken the lead when John Kuester called a timeout with 9:23 left, by which point the Pistons had already committed three defensive gaffes – two three-second calls on one possession and a foul committed while James Jones was lauching a 26-foot 3-point attempt.

Kuester got Tayshaun Prince back into the game at that point for Charlie Villaneuva to play with four other bench players – Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, Austin Daye and Ben Gordon. By the time he ushered Tracy McGrady, Greg Monroe and Rip Hamilton back before the midway point of the quarter, Miami led 88-81. The Pistons never cut it to less than four, though they had three shots to cut into that four-point deficit in the final two minutes and missed each time.

The Heat opened the quarter with a small lineup that had superstars Chris Bosh (center) and LeBron James (power forward) lined up with three shooters: Eddie House, Mike Miller and Jones.

“The matchups – that’s exactly what happened,” Kuester said. “They went small and we went with our normal second group. It was tough for AD and Charlie to match up with their shooters, so you have to make a decision.”

It was at the other end, though, where the Pistons really allowed the comeback. On their first eight possessions over those five-plus minutes, the Pistons went 0 of 6 with two turnovers.

“We just couldn’t score the ball,” Daye said. “It’s hard. I don’t think the group that was in there had a good rhythm and they kind of capitalized on it. It was just an unfortunate situation. The guys out there were clicking on all cylinders. They were running plays that benefited who they had out there and we weren’t able to do it.”

After shooting 60 percent or better throughout the first half and 59.6 percent through three quarters, the Pistons slumped to a dreadful 21 percent – 4 of 19 – in the fourth quarter.

“It’s always frustrating when you lose a game when you control the game,” Monroe said. “I think we controlled the tempo of the game. We had control of the game all the way to the fourth quarter. We just couldn’t finish the game out. I don’t think we stopped playing hard. I think they just turned it up a notch and we have to match that – we didn’t.”

It’s been the story of their season, one they began to write in the very first game.

“They were doing a good job, but we definitely missed some easy shots,” Daye said of the fourth-quarter fizzle. “We missed some opportunities.”