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Pistons even series with Miami in blowout-turned-squeaker

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Ben Wallace scores with a reverse jamAfter being outplayed, outhustled and outworked in Game 1, the Pistons wanted to send a message on Thursday. They accomplished that, holding Miami to just 12 points in the first quarter while scoring 25. The lead eventually grew to as much as 18 in the third, but the Heat never gave up, and ultimately made things far more interesting down the stretch than it should have been.

Nursing a 10-point lead with two minutes left, Detroit committed a series of ill-timed fouls to stop the clock and extend the game for Miami, allowing the Heat chip away at the lead from the free-throw line. With 18.6 seconds left, the lead was just five points following an Antoine Walker layup. Tayshaun Prince couldn't find an open teammate on the ensuing attempt to inbound the ball, and Detroit turned the ball over on a five-second violation when referee Dick Bavetta missed a rather obvious attempt by Prince to call a timeout.

After Dwyane Wade scrambled to the corner to hit a fadeaway three on the next possession, Detroit's lead was suddenly just two points, much to the dismay of the thousands of fans who left the Palace early and were listening in their cars.

The Pistons got the ball to Chauncey Billups, who drained both free throws after the Heat put him on the line. Up four with eight seconds left, it would have taken a miracle for Miami to come back... but considering the Heat had just scored 17 points in less than two minutes, it was still unclear if a miracle wasn't already in progress.

Lindsey Hunter would have none of it, though, sealing Detroit's win by robbing Wade before he could get a shot off just past midcourt. It was Wade's ninth turnover of the game, which ties a Miami playoff record.

The final two minutes of the game aside, the Pistons couldn't have scripted a better defensive performance. Shaquille O'Neal (21 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks) and Dwyane Wade (32 points, seven boards, five assists) did their damage, but none of Miami's other players were much of a factor. Antoine Walker and Gary Payton combined to shoot 4-18 from the field and Udonis Haslem scored his first and only two points of the series.

Detroit's offense was much improved over Game 1. For the umpteenth time this postseason, Tayshaun Prince was the most consistent option -- he led the team with 24 points (10-20 shooting) and grabbed an impressive six offensive boards among 11 total rebounds. It doesn't look like Miami has an answer for him right now, so look for him to continue getting consistent looks for the rest of the series.

Ben Wallace was active early and finished with nine points -- in two games, he's a perfect 7-7 from the field. He also finished with 12 boards and three assists, and was far more active moving the ball (and making passes that led assists) than he has been in several games.

The backcourt was inconsistent: Rip Hamilton scored 20 of his 22 points in the first half, and Chauncey Billups scored all 18 of his points after halftime. Billups also struggled to protect the ball; though he finished with eight assists, he also had six of Detroit's 16 turnovers. There's not much to say here except their shots weren't falling for stretches of time, but luckily their mini-slumps didn't coincide.

Much to the delight of fans everywhere, Flip Saunders finally opened up his rotation a bit, giving Carlos Delfino and Dale Davis a combined 16 minutes of work along with Antonio McDyess and Hunter. The bench scored a combined three points, but they provided a spark that helped keep the starters fresh later on.

A lot of people predicted that Detroit would need a big game out of Rasheed Wallace in order to compete, but by the time the dust settled he scored a pedestrian 16 points with seven rebounds. He was very quiet early, entering halftime with just four points, but he scored nine in the third quarter, helping keep Miami at bay with a couple of timely three-pointers. He eventually fouled out, though, committing a pair of fouls in the final two minutes which contributed to Miami's late comeback. Given the state of his ankle, though, Detroit fans will gladly take the performance.

The series now moves to Miami for games on Saturday and Monday. Even though the Heat will gain homecourt advantage, they've already conceded whatever advantage they may have had with their six days of rest between rounds. Having only one day off between games works to Detroit's advantage considering how much Shaq gets worn down, and it was evident that fatigue was already becoming somewhat of a factor for him given how much success Detroit had pushing the ball up the court with him in the game. Plus, don't forget that Shaq briefly went down on Thursday with what appeared to be a stinger in his neck after falling to the floor and colliding with Walker's knee. He didn't leave the game, but it forced the Heat to call a timeout as he was obviously shaken up. Who knows if that will be an issue on Saturday, but at the very least it's another small ailment added to the pile of bumps and bruises that accumlate this late in the season.

It's difficult to look at Miami's late surge and not think about Cleveland's near-comeback in Game 2 of the previous series. However, I don't think the Pistons are in danger of dropping their next two on the road like they did against the Cavs. For one, Miami's surge was just so... flukey. They got back into the game by getting to the line, not because Detroit's offense suddenly disappeared. Plus, Miami was gift-wrapped at least one possession on Bavetta's mistake, which was so blatant that Prince seemed to suggest in a post-game interview that Bavetta apologized for it as he was leaving the court.

Make no mistake, had Detroit maintained their intensity and played smarter to the end, their lead would have never dipped below double-figures. I just have a hard time imagining they'll lose their focus like that in a hostile environment. Granted, I had similar thoughts coming out of Game 2 of the previous series, so only time will tell.

Pistons 92, Heat 88 box score [ESPN]

Also on DBB:
Pistons-Heat: Game 2