- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The bus carrying the losing team pulled away from the loading dock exactly 48 minutes after the final buzzer sounded, the mood of the Miami Heat as foul and their answers as pithy as their exit was hasty.

Obviously, they wanted to put this one behind them.

On a night when the Heat could have been celebrating the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals, they were instead taken apart by the defending champion Detroit Pistons.

Richard Hamilton did a little of everything on offense, and the Pistons swarmed and swatted their way to a dominant defensive performance last night to defeat Miami 91-66 and even the best-of-seven series at three games apiece.

Game7 will be in Miami tomorrow night to determine who will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. And the deciding factor may end up being a player who was no factor at all in Game6 — Dwyane Wade.

“I’m not doing interviews,” Wade said, surrounded by friends and family, as he stood in a hallway near the loading dock.

And with that, there was to be no detailed explanation of why a strained rib muscle was too painful for Miami’s emerging superstar to bear.

The decision to sit Wade was made just before game time, and without their leading scorer the Heat had no one aside from Shaquille O’Neal to give them an offensive boost — and there were several long stretches when that was exactly what Miami needed.

The 66 points represented the lowest postseason point total in Heat franchise history, and they never were in contention over the final 24 minutes.

“Look, the two teams played with who they had tonight,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They dominated us tonight. Period.”

The Pistons used runs of 13-0 and 10-0 in the second quarter to take a 44-32 halftime lead, and the lead grew to 23 before the third quarter was over. Miami didn’t reach 50 points until 8:07 remained in the fourth quarter, and by then the Pistons were already ahead by 26.

Hamilton scored 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting with six assists and six rebounds, Tayshaun Prince scored 16 and Chauncey Billups 14 for the Pistons, whose most telling statistics were generated on the defensive end.

Detroit had a 19-7 advantage in fast-break points and an 18-7 edge in second-chance points, and the biggest factor in the Pistons’ favor — aside from Wade’s absence — was their 25-2 advantage in points off turnovers.

O’Neal led Miami with 24 points, but he was one of the main culprits when it came to failing to take care of the ball, committing six of the Heat’s 19 turnovers.

“They did what they were supposed to do on their home court,” O’Neal said. “Now, we have to do what we’re supposed to do. Game7 is a must game. No room for mistakes, no room for ‘my faults,’ and everyone has to come in and do their part.”

The Heat now must hope that Wade’s injury starts to heal a lot quicker over the next 48 hours, or the chances increase that it will be the Pistons heading to San Antonio for Game1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

Wade was replaced in the starting lineup by Rasual Butler, who scored 13 points. But Keyon Dooling with 10 points was the only other Miami player to reach double figures. Eddie Jones shot 1-for-9 for three points, Udonis Haslem scored eight and Damon Jones seven.

“Obviously not having [Wade] impacted this game so much. Dwyane, just like Shaq, makes everybody better. Dwyane has that effect on both ends, so obviously it helped,” Brown said.

The absence of Wade first started to hurt the Heat in the early part of the second quarter as the Pistons’ pressure against backup point guard Keyon Dooling disrupted the flow of Miami’s offense.

The Heat had turnovers on four of five possessions, the last of which, a 24-second violation, was followed by an 18-footer by Lindsey Hunter to end the 13-0 run and put Detroit ahead 32-20. At that point, the Heat had 11 turnovers and just nine field goals.

Miami came right back with a 9-0 run, and a high-arcing 3-pointer by Butler made it 34-32 before the Pistons closed the half with a 10-0 run for a 12-point halftime lead. A 3-pointer by Billups got the lead up to 20, 56-36, with 7:04 left in the third quarter, and a corner jumper by Hamilton extended the run to 24-4 and put the Pistons ahead 58-36.

A 3-pointer by Billups with 7:44 remaining got the lead up to 80-51, and O’Neal went to the bench for good with 4 minutes left.

Now, it comes down to a Game7 — a situation coaches often like to call “the ultimate game.”

“I’m thrilled we’re in that position, based on how this series has gone,” Brown said. “I’m proud of my team, and this is great for basketball. You’ve got two terrific teams that try to play the right way, and I have a lot of admiration for Miami, how they’ve played in this series. I haven’t seen any cheap stuff, just two teams trying to do the right thing.”

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