Scorched in Miami

Minus Wade, Heat’s defense suffocates Pistons

TEAM COLORS

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

– Dwyane Wade sat out with an ankle injury, but LeBron James and Chris Bosh had enough of a one-two punch to wobble the Pistons, combining for 48 points as Miami grabbed a 98-75 Easter Sunday win. James scored nine quick points after halftime as Miami stretched a 10-point lead to 20, then Bosh led a fourth-quarter charge with James on the bench as the Heat opened with a 9-0 run to put the Pistons 24 points down. James finished with 26, all in the first three quarters, and Bosh with 22 for the Heat, who at 40-15 are just a game behind Chicago in the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

BLUE COLLAR – Brandon Knight carried Fort Lauderdale’s Pine Crest Academy to two state titles and two other final four berths in his five seasons – he was a varsity starter in eighth grade – and made his NBA debut in his home state a good one. The Pistons struggled to get much of anything going offensively, starting the third quarter 2 of 15 from the field, but Knight led them with 16 points while also sticking his nose inside enough to grab five rebounds. He had a handful of strong moves to the basket and made a highlight-reel block from behind to prevent a Chris Bosh breakaway layup, soaring well above the rim.

RED FLAG – One of the keys to the Pistons’ improved defense over the second half of the season has been limiting opposition corner 3-point attempts. But James Jones – a 3-point specialist – got away from them to knock down three in the second quarter alone, all from the same corner in front of Miami’s bench. Those nine points were a big part of Miami’s 10-point halftime lead. Jones added a fourth corner triple and LeBron James another in the second half. Jones, who didn’t get off the bench in Miami’s Friday night loss to Memphis, finished 6 of 8 from the arc.

MIAMI – The Memphis Grizzlies did the Pistons no favors. While the Pistons were losing a slugfest at Atlanta on Friday night, Miami was in the midst of having its 17-game home winning streak snapped – obliterated, in fact – by Memphis. So even with Dwyane Wade nursing an ankle injury, Erik Spoelstra had little trouble finding motivational tools.

LeBron James scored 26 points in the first three quarters and Chris Bosh added 22 plus nine rebounds as Miami, fighting with Chicago for the top seed in the East, improved to 40-15 with a 98-75 win. But it was less about superstars and the flashy offensive images their names evoke and more about Miami’s defense. In their last two games with Miami, the Pistons have averaged 74 points.

“Their defense kind of sapped our spirit,” Lawrence Frank said. “We kind of got discouraged. Their defense was so dominant tonight that it impacted us on both ends.”

The Pistons played a fine all-around first quarter, leading 21-19 and shooting just under 50 percent at 9 of 19. They made only 19 more baskets in the final three quarters, when they shot 34 percent.

“They’re very aggressive defensively,” Damien Wilkins said. “They’ve got a great defensive scheme. They stick to what they do and what they do, they do it well. They don’t change anything about how they guard people. They just work their defensive system and their defensive schemes and they’ve got the athleticism and quickness to go behind it and it makes it tough to score.”

Miami doubled its halftime lead of 10 points in the first six minutes of the third quarter, putting the Pistons in a deep hole. James scored nine of Miami’s 16 points during that stretch. The Pistons opened the quarter 2 of 15 and scored just 14 points despite a last-minute spurt that cut Miami’s lead to 15 headed to the fourth quarter, but the Heat then opened the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run to blow it open.

“They got all the shots they wanted,” Brandon Knight, who had about a dozen family members and nearly 400 members of Pine Crest Academy, the Fort Lauderdale school he led to two Florida state titles, said of the critical early third quarter stretch. “Everything was easy for them. We had turnovers, missed shots – it all led to that lead just piling up.”

Knight led the Pistons with 16 points, but only two others dented double figures and both Rodney Stuckey – back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench for the past two games in his return from a hamstring injury – and Greg Monroe barely made it with 11 points apiece.

“You look at the three times we’ve played this team, we’re averaging 23 turnovers a game. Those second shots” – both teams had 16 offensive rebounds, but Miami converted them into nearly twice as many second-chance points (25-13) – “sap you, the turnovers (22 for 25 points) sap you, not making shots or making the extra pass or getting a good shot saps you. That’s all part of fighting through against a good opponent,” Frank said.

The Pistons played reasonably good defense, at least limiting James’ damage to scoring; he had just two assists and four rebounds. Miami shot only 43 percent. But they did yield too many open looks to James Jones, Miami’s best 3-point shooter, who knocked down a season-high six triples to account for all of his 18 points, also a season best. Some of that, and some of the risky pass attempts that led to turnovers, Frank felt, were the direct result of the frustration that bubbled up because of how completely stymied they were offensively.

“We got very discouraged because of how good they were defensively and our inability to make plays,” he said. “We can’t allow – and it’s hard – but it’s being really mentally locked in that your offense can’t discourage your defense. But two of the three times we’ve played this group, that’s what’s happened to us.”