Sat, May 27, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Pistons keep Heat in check

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS Detroit grabbed a win in Game 2 of the series by returning to the team concept, while the Heat lost by reducing itself to a two-man team

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , AUBURN HILLS, MICHIGAN

As creatures of habit, the Detroit Pistons knew only one way to respond on Thursday night after having lost Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on their home court 48 hours earlier.

"A lot of people are against us," forward Rasheed Wallace said Wednesday. "So we just try to go out there and do it."

With their mantra of "If it ain't rough, it ain't right" in hand, the Pistons took an early lead and never let it go to defeat the Miami Heat 92-88 and even this best-of-seven game series at a game each. Game 3 will be tonight in Miami.

"We came out and started the game well, got the ball moving," said the Pistons' Ben Wallace, who scored nine points and grabbed 12 rebounds. "We forced the team to play the way we like to play. Any time we can take the tempo of the game, I like our chances."

But the Pistons nearly threw away what should have been an easy finish, allowing the Heat to score 17 points in the final 1 minute 46 seconds.

With the Heat trailing 90-83 Antoine Walker made a driving layup with 18.5 seconds to play. The Pistons could not get the ball inbounds and were called for a five-second violation. Dwyane Wade then made a fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner with a little less than 10 seconds left, making the score 90-88.

But Chauncey Billups hit two free throws and Lindsey Hunter stole the ball from Wade to seal the victory.

The Pistons won by returning to the team concept that drove them to the best regular-season record in the NBA. The Heat lost by reducing itself to a two-man team.

Led by Tayshaun Prince's 24 points, four Pistons scored in double figures. Until Walker's late-game layup, Wade (32 points) and Shaquille O'Neal (21) were the only Heat players in double figures.

"We need four or five guys to play well and score and contribute," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "We didn't get that tonight, and I hope that we get it at home."

Having trailed in several playoff series the past three years -- including a 3-2 deficit to the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year's conference semifinals -- the Pistons knew they needed to come with a little something extra on Thursday night.

They were admittedly a bit flat-footed in Game 1 because it was played just two nights after they won a grueling seven-game series against the Cavaliers. So on Wednesday, Detroit coach Flip Saunders had his team watch film, but did not have them take the court.

The rest, coupled with the urgent situation, seemed enough to keep the Pistons spry throughout Game 2.

Even though they had a 48-37 lead entering the third quarter, the Pistons kept pushing. They opened the second half on a 9-2 run that put them ahead by 18 points. Billups, who finished with 18 points, led the way with a 3-pointer from the wing and a driving layup.

Rasheed Wallace then flexed his offensive muscles for the first time in the series. He scored the Pistons' final nine points of the quarter, making a 16-foot jumper and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions. Moments later, he hit a pair of free throws. Then he squared up against Alonzo Mourning, stepped back and hit a jumper over him.

Wallace, who finished with 16 points, had not been efficient since twisting his ankle in Game 4 against the Cavaliers. But his timely shooting Thursday night helped the Pistons go into the fourth quarter with a 70-56 lead.

"When they were playing their best basketball for three, four, five minutes in some skirmish, they were really good at it," Riley said of the Pistons. "There were a few of those for us, but there weren't enough."

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