- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

MIAMI — In the end, Dwyane Wade’s health was irrelevant.

In fact, he probably could have taken the night off altogether and the Miami Heat most likely would still be celebrating the first trip to the NBA Finals in franchise history.

Miami advanced after easily dethroning the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons 95-78 last night at American Airlines Arena.

Wade, stricken with flu-like symptoms, skipped the team’s shootaround yesterday morning and he spent part of the day in the hospital being fed intravenously. He still managed 14 points and 10 assists .

“I wasn’t really worried about it,” Wade said. “I felt pretty good in the second half. But I knew that my guys would carry us through.”

With Wade ailing, the Heat [-] who began play in the 1988-89 season — received huge performances from others, winning the series 4-2.

Shaquille O’Neal, who won the last of three straight titles with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002, belied his 34 years and looked spry, finishing with 28 points, 16 rebounds and five blocksvb.

O’Neal was 12-for-14 from the fieldb. Brought here in a big trade two summers ago to take the Heat to the championship, he now stands just four games away from making that a reality.

While O’Neal’s performance may not have qualified as stunning, point guard Jason Williams’ effort did.

The once erratic “White Chocolate” scorched the Pistons, shooting 10-for-11 and finishing with 21 points and six assistsb.

“Shaq was great early,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “And I said before the game, what happens is some role player steps up and is the guy that is really the determining factor in the game, and I thought Jason Williams was the determining factor.”

Meanwhile, the Pistons looked nothing like the team coming off a franchise-record 64-win regular season.

Guard Richard Hamilton finished with a game-high 32 points. However, only two other Pistons [-] Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince [-] scored in double figures, posting 10 points apiece.

“It hurts,” Hamilton said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t win the ring, all you did in the season doesn’t mean a thing. That’s our goal, you know, to try to win a ring.”

Miami, which will face the winner of the Dallas-Phoenix series beginning next week, dominated in every facet of the game. Against the vaunted Detroit defense, the Heat made 55.7 percent of its field goals. Detroit, meanwhile, made jut 33.3 percent of its shots.

The Heat dominated the boards as well, out-rebounding the Pistons 48-39 .

Wade didn’t look himself in the first quarter, going scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting. And it didn’t help matters that he had the unenviable task of chasing around the constantly moving Hamilton.

But in the early going, Wade was the only Heat player who struggled against the Pistons. As Miami jumped out to a 22-16 lead to start the game, the Heat connected on 11 of their first 13 shots, with both misses by Wade.

But O’Neal, not Wade, has earned three NBA championships, and the massive center began to assert his influence on the game in the second quarter.

After Detroit’s Chauncey Billups sank a pair of free throws that closed the Pistons to within 32-27 with 5:29 left in the half, O’Neal responded with a follow dunk and a hook shot, igniting an 8-0 Miami run and a 13-point lead.

Whatever fight the Pistons might have had left at halftime was gone in the third quarter, as evidenced by their 6-for-23 shooting that resulted in a 70-50 Heat lead with less than 30 seconds left in the quarter.

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