Heat Wave

Second-quarter dominance allows Miami to ease by Pistons


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

– The game had the feel of one that would add up to trouble for the Pistons when their starters got them off to a sluggish start. Cleveland led 14-12 late in the first quarter when John Kuester began sprinkling bench players into the mix. And they turned the game immediately. By halftime, the Pistons had gotten 35 points out of their bench, 17 from Rodney Stuckey. They wound up with a whopping 61-17 bench edge as Kuester let entire five-man bench units play large stretches of both the second and fourth quarters. Stuckey finished with 22 and four assists with no turnovers and Will Bynum 17 and with seven assists and one turnover. Charlie Villaneuva had 13 points, Chris Wilcox six points and eight boards and Austin Daye – despite not shooting well – chipped in with five boards and three assists.

BLUE COLLAR – The Pistons survived a shaky start to cut Miami’s lead to four points after one quarter, but a thoroughly dominant second quarter by the Heat came partly at the expense of a Pistons bench that had outscored Cleveland reserves 61-17 two nights earlier. Miami shot 11 of 17 from the field and, more telling, forced the Pistons to put the Heat at the line 16 times in the quarter, leading to 14 more Miami points. The Heat outscored the Pistons 39-22 in the second quarter, making a comeback against a team 24 games over .500 a very long shot.

RED FLAG – The Pistons couldn’t afford to let Miami be the aggressor, but that’s exactly what happened and it was clear early and often. The Pistons are best in the NBA at taking care of the basketball, but early turnovers and Miami’s offensive rebounding led to an early 20-2 advantage in points in the paint. The Pistons committed four turnovers on their first seven possessions and compounded their offensive woes by missing eight of their first nine 3-point attempts. When the Pistons rallied back within four after one quarter, they got blown out in the second quarter, when they were outscored by 17, in part because they missed at least four layups.

Two weeks ago when the Pistons played at Miami, LeBron James had to go it alone. Dwyane Wade was out with a wrist injury and Chris Bosh down with a sprained ankle. It was basically the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2009, uprooted and transplanted to South Beach. The Pistons came within a few calls and an Austin Daye dunk of winning on a night James had to empty his holster, scoring 39 points.

Friday night he came to The Palace for his first visit as anything but a Cavalier and gave Pistons fans glaring evidence of why he chose to flee Cleveland and join forces with Wade and Bosh.

Content to play defense, run the floor and orchestrate a series of plays for highlight-reel consideration in newsrooms everywhere, James scored only 16 points in a Miami rout. Picking his spots for controlled bursts of furious basketball brilliance, James dished out 10 assists and grabbed eight rebounds.

Wade, meanwhile, made his own run at a triple-double with 24 points, eight boards and seven assists. Bosh settled for 17 and 10, scoring 13 of his points in the decisive second quarter when the Heat scored 10 points in transition among their 39 as they outscored the Pistons by 17 in what would be a 14-point margin of victory, 106-92.

“They’re a good team,” Pistons rookie Greg Monroe said. “It’s no secret. They’re on a roll. They made plays they needed to make to build a lead.”

The Heat have obvious holes. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, well past his prime, is the starting center, and Mario Chalmers would be a huge liability as the starting point guard on any team that couldn’t flank him on the wings with two future Hall of Famers.

But Miami’s strengths – namely, James, Wade and Bosh, with heavy emphasis on the first two – are overwhelming. So devastatingly athletic and skilled are Miami’s big three, their weaknesses almost taunt opponents. And when they come to work in a serious mood, determined to crank up their athleticism to full effect, nights like the Pistons experienced Friday are bound to happen with more than passing frequency.

“They’re a very dangerous team,” Charlie Villanueva said. “They have so much firepower on that team. The first 20 games or whatever, they were struggling, but they’re clicking now and playing really good basketball.”

There might be better teams over 48 minutes in Miami, but maybe nobody but the Lakers can put together bursts of five or 10 minutes so dominant they essentially decide outcomes.

After the Pistons cut an early 11-point deficit to four by the end of the first quarter, it appeared they had averted an early crisis and would hang around to give themselves a chance to win. But early in the second quarter – with James on the bench, no less – the Heat went on a 10-0 run that took a mere 87 seconds.

But again the Pistons recovered, cutting the 14-point deficit to eight by the time James re-entered. Miami’s lead soon swelled to 23 as the Pistons kept fueling Miami’s lethal transition game with missed shots – they were 1 of 9 from the 3-point arc and missed at least four second-quarter layups, both shots that typically open up transition opportunities.

“That second group came in and got good shots,” John Kuester said. “Unfortunately, they got lost in transition and they made us pay every possession. Their ability to get momentum plays … sucks the wind out of the crowd. That period where we were 1 for 9, that hurt. Having four turnovers in our first seven possessions, those are things that bite you in the butt against a team of that quality.”

Tayshaun Prince was the only Pistons starter in double figures, scoring 11 on a night Rodney Stuckey returned to the starting lineup. Austin Daye scored 18 off the bench, 15 in the fourth quarter, and Ben Gordon added 16.

“They’re a great transition team,” Villanueva said. “I think a lot of people don’t give them credit for that. But they run the floor. Their style of play is based on getting out in transition.”

For a Pistons team itself in transition, it was all too much on a night LeBron James had his full complement of weapons alongside him.