Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Pat Riley turns up Heat with strategy

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION Miami's new role players were so effective that they didn't even need their superstar duo to win while on the road in Detroit

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , AUBURN HILLS, MICHIGAN

Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley, left, grabs the arm of Dwyane Wade during the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on Tuesday. Miami defeated Detroit 91-86 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven game series.

PHOTO: AFP

The Miami Heat spent last summer finding new faces to add to its roster. It used the early part of the season to make a coaching change. It spent the past six months working to make everything jell.

This tinkering was done with one major purpose in mind -- to avenge last year's loss to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Heat served notice on Tuesday night that its formula for dethroning the Pistons, the two-time defending conference champions, might be the right one.

Miami turned to its role players to offset the foul trouble of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille ONeal and won Game 1 of this conference finals rematch 91-86 to steal home-court advantage from the Pistons.

Wade led the Heat with 25 points, but he played only 26 minutes 43 seconds because of foul trouble. O'Neal scored 14 points in 29:10.

But the Heat, which had three other players in double figures, shot 56.3 percent from the field, compared with the Pistons' 37.8 percent. Richard Hamilton led Detroit with 22 points, but he shot 9 for 22.

"That's what it's going to take," O'Neal said, "a total team effort to beat this great Detroit team."

The Heat proved its mettle during two stretches, while Wade and O'Neal were on the bench.

The first came in the final five minutes of the first half, when the Heat outscored the Pistons by a point. The second was a 5-minute-15-second span that began at the end of the third quarter. Miami outscored Detroit by nine points in that stretch.

For several of the Heat's new faces, like Gary Payton and Antoine Walker, this is their chance to show that the highly scrutinized roster moves made last summer by Pat Riley, the coach and team president, were not in vain.

"That's what he brought us here for," said Payton, who had 14 points off the bench Tuesday. "He brought us to get over the hump, win the finals, get the championship."

Game 2 is Thursday night and the Heat still has a long way to go before it can hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy. But the Heat players were so poised at times that they appeared to be making easy work of the Pistons, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA.

Detroit was seemingly plagued by the same shooting woes that nearly led to its demise against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semifinals.

The Pistons might have been nursing tired legs after finishing a grueling seven-game series against the Cavaliers 48 hours earlier.

"I didn't think we had consistent energy or didn't totally play with the edge we played with the last two games," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.

The Pistons missed their first six shots Tuesday, and the Heat took an 11-0 lead.

The Pistons' one bright moment on offense came early in the second half. They went on a 12-2 run and when Chauncey Billups made a driving layup with 6:56 left in the third quarter, they took their first lead, 56-54.

Perhaps more damaging to the Heat than the Pistons' spurt was Wade's picking up his fourth foul; he went to the bench with 7:14 to play in the period.

But with Wade, their most explosive player, on the bench, the Heat's role players continued to prove that they could make things happen.

After the Pistons stretched their lead to five points on a jumper by Rasheed Wallace, Detroit went scoreless for the next six and a half minutes.

"You really can't control whether the ball is going in the hoop or not, but we got what we wanted," said Billups, who scored 19 points but shot only 6 of 19.

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