- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

MIAMI — With their star guard watching the final 10 minutes from the locker room, the Miami Heat moved within one victory of the NBA Finals.

Whether Dwyane Wade can help them take the final step remains to be seen.

Wade sustained a rib muscle injury in the third quarter, and the pain was too much for him to take when he returned early in the final period of Miami’s 88-76 victory over the defending champion Detroit Pistons last night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Wade was uncertain of his availability for Game 6 at Detroit tomorrow night.

“It’s very, very painful,” Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It feels like he’s being stabbed when he breathes. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Wade scored 15 points and Shaquille O’Neal had 20 for the Heat, who received significant contributions from several players — from some savvy freelancing by point guard Damon Jones in the first and third quarters to two timely turnaround jumpers by Rasual Butler in the fourth quarter — to move as close as the franchise has ever been to making the championship round.

But to get there, they’ll have to win one final time against a Detroit team that has shown time and again that it’s able to take its game to a higher level when circumstances start to turn dire.

And they might have to do it without Wade.

“I couldn’t move in either direction, I could only go straight,” said Wade, who pulled the muscle while executing a crossover dribble midway through the third quarter. “Hopefully, me being young, I can recoup real quick and be ready for Game 6.”

Miami’s Udonis Haslem had his best game of the series with 14 points and 13 rebounds, helping make up for a sub-par offensive effort from Eddie Jones (seven points). Butler contributed 12 points off the bench, including seven in the fourth quarter, and Damon Jones scored 15.

“Their energy was a lot greater than ours,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “In Game 4 our big guys got four or five dunks on the break. We didn’t see any of that tonight. They just played a lot better.”

Chauncey Billups had 21 points and Richard Hamilton added 19 for the Pistons. Rasheed Wallace was held to two.

Wade went to the locker room after taking a charge from Wallace with 5:08 left in the third period. He returned for the start of the fourth quarter, then motioned to the bench that he needed to come out less than 2 minutes into the period.

“I took the charge because I couldn’t move,” Wade said. “I wanted to stop play anyway.”

Miami took control in the second quarter by holding Detroit to six field goals and forcing six turnovers in the period. An 11-0 run to close the first half left Miami ahead 53-39, and Detroit trailed by double digits the rest of the way.

In NBA history, the winner of Game 5 in a series tied 2-2 has gone on to win it 106 of 126 times.

Damon Jones and O’Neal each started 4-for-4 in the first quarter, O’Neal getting his within Miami’s halfcourt sets while Jones got his through freelancing. An ill-advised 3-point attempt early in the shot clock ended Jones’ 4-for-4 streak late in the period, and he toned down his act through the remainder of the first half and helped keep the Heat steadily in front.

Hamilton kept the Pistons within striking range, but with no one else contributing on offense, Detroit had a significant lull. Hamilton’s 9-foot bank shot with 2:23 left gave the Pistons their last points of the second quarter, and Miami closed the half with an 11-0 run for the 53-39 lead.

Haslem had a wide-open corner jumper and a tip-in to get the lead up to 63-45 early in the third quarter, and a 21-footer by Wade with 5:31 left gave Miami its first 20-point lead, 67-47.

Detroit scored the next six points, and Van Gundy wanted a timeout when Jones pulled off his next piece of freelancing.

Ignoring his coach as he sped over the midcourt line, Jones drove straight to the basket and lofted the ball to O’Neal for an alley-oop dunk. It was a temporary stop to Detroit’s comeback, however, as they quickly pulled within 10, but a momentum killer nonetheless.

That was as close as Detroit would get, and Miami was able to stay comfortably ahead through the fourth quarter despite being without Wade, who was averaging 30.0 points in the series.

“My wife is going to have to sleep in another bed tonight, because if she hits me, it’ll hurt,” Wade said.

Notes — Brown finally made a public acknowledgment that he had spoken with the Cleveland Cavaliers about becoming their team president. He again said he would hold off on making any decisions about his future until after the season ends and he addresses a health problem. … O’Neal led the Heat in scoring for only the second time this postseason.

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