- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Instead of focusing on the Miami Heat, the Detroit Pistons devoted their attention to the referees. The champions weren’t happy, and they let their disgust beat them.

On a night when Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal were better in the first half than they were in the second, the Heat didn’t need either of them to be the key factor in their 113-104 victory over Detroit last night for a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Instead, Miami let the Pistons self-destruct.

Miami scored 11 points from the foul line during a 13-4 run that put the Heat ahead for good midway through the fourth quarter, and the Pistons lost control of their emotions to such a degree that Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups were hit with technical fouls in the fourth quarter for screaming in disgust at the officials.

Pistons coach Larry Brown got in on the act, too, venting his displeasure with sarcastic shouts after he realized the game had slipped away from his team.

Billups eventually fouled out, and Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess all finished with five fouls apiece.

Wade, who scored 21 of his 36 points in the first half, was held more in check in the final 24 minutes by Lindsey Hunter’s defense and some foul trouble of his own.

But Wade was able to hit a jumper over Tayshaun Prince with 2:46 left, shortly after checking back in for the final time, to give Miami a 102-93 lead that made the crowd begin scurrying for the exits.

O’Neal finished with 24 points for the Heat, and Eddie Jones had 19. O’Neal made his first six foul shots of the fourth quarter and finished 8-for-12 from the line.

“Tonight, we needed them, so I just stepped up, took my time, and hit them,” O’Neal said.

Richard Hamilton led Detroit with 33, while Billups struggled from the field by shooting 6-for-19, and the Pistons missed 15 of their 43 free throws.

The statistics did not show too much of a disparity in the calls — Detroit was whistled for 33 fouls to Miami’s 29, and the Heat went to the line 54 times to the Pistons’ 43. But there was several moments that infuriated the Pistons and their fans, including a pair of very late whistles that sent Wade to the line in the first half, and numerous non-calls on the inside — one of which Billups emerged from with a bloody nose.

“We kind of lost our poise,” Brown said, “and as a result of that we dug ourselves a hole with a chance to win.”

Miami attempted 29 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, making 22. Jones was 6-for-6 in the period, and Wade was 6-for-8.

“I told him before the game we really needed him,” Wade said of O’Neal, who was slowed by a bruised thigh and was not a huge offensive factor for Miami in Games1 and 2. “He knew we needed him and this is where we needed him the most — on the road in a hostile environment. And he stepped up big for us. He hit big free throws down the stretch.

“That’s the kind of player he is, and it was a great win for us.”

Game4 is tomorrow night.

O’Neal hit his first four shots over the first 8 minutes of the first quarter, and he was visibly angry — waving his hand dismissively at coach Stan Van Gundy and yelling “No!” before relenting and going to the bench — when he was subbed out for the first time with the score 17-17.

O’Neal’s first two fouls came in rapid succession midway through the second quarter, but the Heat lost nothing — thanks to Wade — when he went to the bench.

Wade knocked down two jumpers on Miami’s first two possessions after O’Neal left, and the gasps from the crowd kept getting louder as Wade kept doing whatever he pleased on offense — whether by driving through traffic and scoring underneath, or pulling up from the outside for jumpers. He went 7-for-7 in the period before finally missed a shot with 8 seconds left before halftime.

Miami led 53-51 at the break behind 21 points from Wade and 14 from O’Neal on 7-for-8 shooting.

When O’Neal fed Udonis Haslem for a jumper that gave Miami its largest lead to that point, 73-63, O’Neal had five assists — more than anyone on either team.

Detroit pulled to 78-75 by the end of the third quarter, and Billups hit a free throw after a technical foul against Alonzo Mourning to produce a 79-79 tie with 10:56 left. The run reached 9-0 and gave Detroit an 84-79 lead, but Miami responded by scoring 10 of the next 14 points.

“We kept our poise, man. We didn’t lose it,” said Jones, who was Miami’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter with 11 points.

Notes — Brown would not comment on a report out of Cleveland that he must decide by today whether to accept the position of Cavaliers team president. The Cavaliers received permission earlier this month to speak to Brown’s representatives, but Brown had said he would wait until two to three days after Detroit’s season ends to decide whether he would return as coach of the Pistons. … Van Gundy acknowledged “it probably wasn’t” the best idea to call Pistons fans (along with Knicks fans) “the absolute nastiest people. They’re not just loud. These people will say and do anything.”

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