Heat's energy rolls Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- We hereby amend everybody's Eastern Conference finals prediction to Heat in 4.
Just kidding. You can't really do that, but the ease with which the Miami Heat dispatched Detroit in Game 1 Tuesday night has to give pause to those who felt the Pistons were the better team.
Miami 1, Detroit 0
Game 2: Thu., 8 ET, at DET
Dwyane Wade was limited to 27 minutes by foul trouble, and it didn't matter. Shaquille O'Neal played only 29 minutes and had to be taken off the court as an anti-Hack-a-Shaq preventive measure at the end, and it didn't matter. The Heat committed 16 turnovers to Detroit's six, was outrebounded on the offensive glass 9-5 and got a grand total of zero points from Udonis Haslem, the player on their roster who logged more minutes than any of them.
None of it mattered. The Heat wanted to seize control of the game -- and the series -- and they did without much trouble.
"We were swimming upstream the whole time," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.
The Palace was two-thirds empty by the time the final buzzer sounded, bringing an end to the Heat's 91-86 victory that wasn't as close as the final score might have indicated. Miami held the lead for almost 42 of the 48 minutes, received 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting and five assists from Wade when he wasn't idled by foul trouble and asserted such control throughout the fourth quarter that more than half the crowd decided it wasn't worth sticking around to see if there'd be a miracle finish.
You can chalk it up as just one victory for a well-rested team against a dog-tired one coming off a seven-game series, or you can surmise that Miami is playing at such a crisp and efficient level that the Pistons' entire postseason hopes will be riding on the outcome of Game 2 Thursday night. They don't want to head down to South Beach for Memorial Day Weekend with an 0-2 deficit, which is why you can expect to see a lot more of Tayshaun Prince defending Wade and a little more of an effort from Rasheed Wallace, who had only seven points and three rebounds on a sore ankle his coach estimated to be about 75 percent.
You can also expect some discernable desperation from the Pistons, whose well-known resilience will be tested in Game 2. They may not have totally moved on mentally from their grueling second-round series victory over Cleveland, but they'll need to in order to keep this thing competitive.
The Heat took the crowd right out of the game by scoring the first 11 points, withstood a third-quarter run that put the Pistons ahead by three, then used an intentional foul against Ben Wallace with 2½ minutes left to prevent Detroit from doing anything that might shift the momentum.
"When they get on a run, they get on a run by making 3s, which is what they were doing and getting back in the game," Riley said afterward. "[If] you've got a 25 percent free throw shooter, I think you have to take your chances on that one possession. It isn't something I would make a habit of doing."
Wallace missed his two free throws and Antoine Walker scored on Miami's next possession, and that was about it.
The Heat ended the night shooting 56 percent from the field, including 75 percent in the first quarter when Wade was 6-for-6 with Richard Hamilton trying to guard him. After Wade picked up his third foul with 7:47 left before halftime and Shaq joined him on the bench with his third foul 2:48 later, the Pistons actually lost ground over the remainder of the half. Wade was whistled for his fourth foul 5 minutes into the third quarter with the score tied, but Miami still managed to pull ahead by six by the time Wade returned with 9:07 remaining in the fourth quarter. From there, he had 10 points and three assists to finish the job.
The fresh legs of the Heat remained fresh down the stretch, a product of their six days off after finishing off New Jersey and their coach's decision Tuesday morning to forsake a shootaround in favor of a walkthrough at the team hotel. Riley, who explained he didn't want to spend 3½ hours traveling to and from the arena for shootaround, also revealed the Heat had shattered a chandelier in their hotel ballroom during the walkthrough.
They'll gladly pay for it, and it wouldn't be out of the question for them to shatter another one as a good luck sacrifice if it would ensure a repeat of the performance they displayed in the opener. Somebody else, likely a hotel employee/Pistons fan, will be the one picking up the pieces, anyway.
Detroit will need to do the same thing after this loss, but there are big, legitimate questions regarding how much confidence and how much fatigue the Pistons are carrying into this round after their near-meltdown against LeBron James and Cleveland.
"I don't know where they're going to get some rest. This series is every other day," Walker said. "So I don't know. At this point you're playing to get to the finals."
And the Heat might just get there in four if things go the rest of the way as they did in Game 1.