Heat's slow start costs Miami down stretch
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Even on a night marred by long stretches of offensive ineptitude, the Miami Heat almost pulled off a comeback for the ages.
Alas, it was in vain.
A stunning flurry at the end couldn't undo the offensive wrongs committed in the first 46 minutes, and the Detroit Pistons managed to even the Eastern Conference finals with a 92-88 win in Game 2 Thursday night.
Down 83-71 with 1:46 left, the Heat scored 17 points -- five more than they managed in the entire opening quarter -- in a 97-second span.
"They made some tough shots down the stretch. ... A dogfight," Pistons center Ben Wallace said.
The Heat were 4-for-5 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul line in their wild game-ending spurt, in which they drew within two when Dwyane Wade hit a turnaround, fallaway 3-pointer from the left corner with 9.8 seconds left. But the comeback ended there.
"It means something, but it doesn't," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "It means something, yeah, that we hung in there. We could have gotten lucky, actually. ... We hung in there and had a shot at it, but when they opened the lead to 18 points, it was pretty hard for us to come back."
Miami shot only 42.5 percent from the field, turned the ball over 18 times and connected on a mere 10 percent of its 3-point attempts in the first three quarters.
The biggest issue, though, was balance -- specifically, Miami's lack of it offensively.
Wade had 32 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 21, but no other Heat player managed more than seven until the final minutes.
"You've got to have four or five guys play well. ... We didn't get that tonight," Riley said.
Antoine Walker went 3-for-12 from the floor. Udonis Haslem was 1-for-5, making him 1-for-12 in the series. Gary Payton, who had 14 points in Game 1, was 1-for-6 in Game 2. Meanwhile, four Detroit starters reached double figures; the one who didn't, Ben Wallace, was 4-for-4 for nine points.
And that was the downfall; for the first time in their last six games, the Heat didn't get the widespread production that Riley pleaded for all season.
And the Heat -- who missed 12 of their last 14 shots in the opening period and fell behind by 14 points in the opening minutes -- lost for the first time in their last six games.
The series heads back to Miami on Saturday, now tied at a game apiece. True, the Heat did swipe home-court advantage away from the two-time defending East kings with a win in Game 1, but the Pistons clearly regained at least some of their lost momentum in Game 2.
If there was an omen for Miami, it came early.
O'Neal extended his thick right arm, poised to slam an alley-oop lob from Wade and give the Heat an early one-point lead about four minutes into the game.
He cupped the ball, yet managed only to clang it off the rim. The carom wound up sailing out of bounds near midcourt, the Pistons retained the lead -- and kept it the rest of the way.
By the time Miami found its stride Thursday, it was simply too late.
Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer with 3:07 left in the third to give Detroit a 66-48 lead, part of a run where he scored nine straight Pistons points -- the last a jumper for a 70-54 lead with 1:08 remaining.
It looked over.
It wasn't -- not yet, anyway.
The Heat rallied gamely, getting within 77-71 when Wade found O'Neal for a score with 4:15 left to play -- ending what was a 17-7 Miami run. And they had one more spurt left, but after Wade's 3-pointer that got his team within two points, Miami never got another shot off.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press