- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Pat Riley had one thing in mind when he revamped the supporting cast around Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade.

Get past Detroit.

The Miami Heat’s new role players were so effective in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals that they didn’t even need their superstar duo to steal home-court advantage away from the Pistons.

First-year Heat players Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Jason Williams all scored in double figures to lead Miami past Detroit 91-86 last night.

“We’ve been here before — we know what to do,” Payton said. “We know how to make plays. It’s not like we’re rookies.”

Wade, who sat out more than 10 straight minutes of the second half with four fouls, had 25 points in 27 minutes and O’Neal scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half — making the Heat feel even better about starting the series strong.

“I was in a groove, but I couldn’t really get into a rhythm,” Wade said.

The Pistons, who trailed by as much as 12 in the first quarter and nine in the second, took their first lead on Chauncey Billups’ layup with 6:55 to go in the third quarter.

The two-time defending conference champions didn’t enjoy the lead long.

Miami snatched control of the game with a 20-5 run, taking a 75-65 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

“Their supporting cast was good — and that was the difference,” Billups said.

Detroit’s backcourt scored a lot, but missed a ton of shots.

Richard Hamilton had 22 points on 9-for-22 shooting and Billups finished with 19 on 6-for-19 shooting.

“We missed shots that we normally make,” Billups said.

Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince scored 16 points, reserve Antonio McDyess added 10 and Rasheed Wallace had a quiet night — scoring just seven points after missing seven of 10 shots — perhaps slowed down by an injured ankle.

Game 2 is tomorrow night at the Palace before the best-of-seven series shifts to Miami.

“The game becomes huge, no question,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “We have to grab the momentum of the series back.”

Only foul trouble slowed down Wade and O’Neal before halftime, and Wade in the third quarter.

Wade was called for his third foul with 7:47 left in the first half, with 13 points on 6-for-6, and O’Neal went to the bench a few minutes later with three fouls and 12 points after missing only one of six shots.

With Miami’s leaders on the bench, the Pistons seemed to have a perfect opportunity to take their first lead.

But the Heat’s role players, led by Payton, turned a three-point advantage into a 48-39 lead late in the first half.

The same scenario played out shortly after Wade was called for his fourth foul with 7:14 left in the third quarter.

After Wade went back to the bench, Detroit went ahead 60-55 — its largest lead — before missing 12 straight shots, falling behind by eight and failing to mount much of a comeback.

“That’s what it’s going to take — a total team effort against a championship team like Detroit,” O’Neal said. “Our two main guys got into some foul trouble, but they just came and played good ball, moved the ball and hit open shots.

“If they can do that for the rest of the series — for the rest of the season — we should be OK.”

The Pistons played just two days after being pushed to seven games by the Cleveland Cavaliers while the Heat played one week after eliminating New Jersey in five games.

Walker finished with 17 points, Payton had 14 off the bench, and Williams scored 10.

Those three players were the key parts acquired by Riley when he was only the team’s president last offseason before he went back to the sideline when coach Stan Van Gundy resigned for family reasons.

The famed coach made the drastic changes after Miami lost a 3-2 lead in the conference finals last year against Detroit, which advanced to the finals with a win on the road.

The Pistons are the NBA’s first team since the Chicago Bulls of the early 1990s to play in four straight conference finals.

The Heat didn’t have a customary shootaround before last night’s game.

They obviously didn’t need one.

“You want to draw first blood,” Riley said before the game. “Both teams want to do it.”

The Heat did.

They went ahead 11-0 while Detroit missed its first six shots. Miami’s lead hovered between eight and 12 for the rest of the quarter, taking a 33-25 lead into the second quarter.

The Pistons probably were thankful their deficit wasn’t larger because Miami was outshooting them 75 to 35 percent.

Detroit didn’t shoot much better in the second quarter, but benefited from O’Neal and Wade’s foul trouble. The Pistons’ 15-3 run pulled them within one point midway through the quarter, but they appeared to relax when both of Miami’s stars were on the bench and they ended up trailing 48-44 at halftime.

Miami started the second half strong, too, taking an eight-point lead before four Pistons scored — including Rasheed Wallace with his first points on a 3-pointer — and Billups put them ahead for the first time.

Wallace sprained his right ankle against the Cavaliers, and hasn’t been able to consistently play as well at both ends of the court.

“He looked worn a little bit,” Saunders said. “We need to get rejuvenated quick.”


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