Good thing, too.
The veteran trio of Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Jason
Williams -- brought on to help O'Neal and Wade get past the Pistons
-- were so effective in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals that
they didn't need superstar efforts from their superstar duo to
steal home-court advantage from Detroit.
Walker finished with 17 points, Payton came off the bench to
score 14, and Williams had 10 to lead Miami to a 91-86 victory
"It's not like we're rookies," Payton said.
Wade, who sat out more than 10 straight minutes of the second
half with four fouls, had 25 points in 27 minutes and O'Neal scored
12 of his 14 points in the first half -- making the Heat feel even
better about starting the series strong.
"I think that's the first time this season, other than
injuries, that they've both been out for extended periods," Riley
said. "That's why the last four or five minutes of the second
period might have determined the game, even though they came back
in the third."
The Pistons, who trailed by as much as 12 in the first quarter
and nine in the second, took their first lead on Chauncey Billups'
layup with 6:55 to go in the third quarter.
The two-time defending conference champions didn't enjoy the
Miami snatched control of the game with a 20-5 run, taking a
75-65 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"Their supporting cast was good -- and that was the
difference," Billups said.
Detroit's backcourt scored a lot, but missed a ton of shots.
Richard Hamilton had 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting and Billups
finished with 19 on 6-of-19 shooting.
"We missed shots that we normally make," Billups said.
Detroit's Tayshaun Prince scored 16 points, reserve Antonio
McDyess added 10 and Rasheed Wallace had a quiet night -- scoring
just seven points after missing seven of 10 shots -- perhaps slowed
down by an injured ankle.
Game 2 is Thursday night at The Palace before the best-of-seven
series shifts to Miami.
"The game becomes huge, no question," Pistons coach Flip
Saunders said. "We have to grab the momentum of the series back."
Wade was called for his third foul with 7:47 left in the first
half, with 13 points on 6-of-6, and O'Neal went to the bench a few
minutes later with three fouls and 12 points after missing only one
of six shots.
"I was in a groove, but I couldn't really get into a rhythm,"
With Miami's leaders on the bench, the Pistons seemed to have a
perfect opportunity to their first lead.
But the Heat's role players, led by Payton, turned a three-point
advantage into a 48-39 lead late in the first half.
The same scenario played out shortly after Wade was called for
his fourth foul with 7:14 left in the third quarter.
After Wade went back to the bench, Detroit went ahead 60-55 --
its largest lead -- before missing 12 straight shots, falling behind
by eight and failing to mount much of a comeback.
"That's what it's going to take -- a total team effort against a
championship team like Detroit," O'Neal said. "Our two main guys
got into some foul trouble, but they just came and played good
ball, moved the ball and hit open shots.
"If they can do that for the rest of the series -- for the rest
of the season -- we should be OK."
The Pistons played just two days after being pushed to seven
games by the Cleveland Cavaliers while the Heat played one week
after eliminating New Jersey in five games.
Walker, Payton and Williams were among the players picked up by
Riley when he was only the team's president last offseason, before
he went back to the sideline when coach Stan Van Gundy resigned for
The famed coach made the drastic changes after Miami lost a 3-2
lead in the conference finals last year against Detroit, which
advanced to the finals with a win on the road in Game 7.
The Pistons are the NBA's first team since the Chicago Bulls of
the early 1990s to play in four straight conference finals.
Miami went ahead 11-0 while Detroit missed its first six shots.
The Heat's lead hovered between eight and 12 for the rest of the
quarter, taking a 33-25 lead into the second quarter.
The Pistons probably were thankful their deficit wasn't larger
because Miami was outshooting them 75 to 35 percent.
Detroit didn't shoot much better in the second quarter, but
benefited from O'Neal and Wade's foul trouble. The Pistons' 15-3
run pulled them within one point midway through the quarter, but
they appeared to relax when both of Miami's stars were on the bench
and they ended up trailing 48-44 at halftime.
Miami started the second half strong, too, taking an eight-point
lead before four Pistons scored -- including Rasheed Wallace with
his first points on a 3-pointer -- and Billups put them ahead for
the first time.
Wallace sprained his right ankle against the Cavs, and hasn't
been able to consistently play as well at both ends of the court.
"He looked worn a little bit," Saunders said. "We need to get
Late in the game, the Heat went with Hack-A-Ben scheme and
the Pistons responded by Hack-A-Shaq plan, trying to get Ben
Wallace and O'Neal -- both awful free throw shooters -- on the line.
... The Heat are 8-0 this postseason when leading at the half. ...
As coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Riley faced the Pistons in the
1988 and '89 finals and won the first matchup and lost the next.
... O'Neal moved past Karl Malone for third in career playoff
scoring. O'Neal has 4,772 points to Malone's 4,761. Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar is second with 5,762 points and Michael Jordan leads