AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit Pistons got off to such a good start last night that the finish, although more than mildly interesting, didn't really matter.
Detroit beat Miami 92-88 in the second game of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, evening the best-of-seven series 1-1.
The Heat scored 17 points in the last 1:50 of the game and trimmed what was once an 18-point, second-half deficit to two points before a couple of free throws by Chauncey Billups and a steal by Lindsey Hunter sealed Detroit's win.
"We scored 17 that fast?" Miami coach Pat Riley said, responding to a question. "I guess we'd better go to that offense earlier in games. You know, sometimes a team has a big lead and tends to wait for the game to end. Meanwhile, we were trying to get lucky."
An incredible 3-point shot by Dwyane Wade while falling out of bounds with 9.2 seconds left after a sloppy, five-second violation by the Pistons would be as lucky as the Heat would get.
Detroit's Tayshaun Prince made sure of that with a career playoff high of 24 points, including 10 straight in the fourth quarter. Rip Hamilton made sure in spurts by contributing 22 points. Billups made sure with all of his 18 points coming in the second half.
And Ben Wallace made sure of it from start to finish.
The Pistons' under-sized center - at least when compared to Miami's Shaquille O'Neal - said his team looked tired while dropping a 91-86 decision on Tuesday night, and he provided the wake-up call this time with some early baskets.
Later, he turned his attention to frustrating O'Neal as Detroit opened a big enough second-half lead to hold off the late Miami rally.
"We wanted to force Shaq to guard the pick-and-rolls and my teammates did a great job of finding me at the basket," Wallace said. "When I score like that it means that we have everybody involved and that keeps a defense honest. We can wear teams down like that.
"I would have liked to see us finish it the way we started, but we made it stand up. The big thing was our focus was better at the start. We played the way we're capable of playing."
Wallace scored nine points, dished off for three other baskets and led the Pistons with 12 rebounds.
He couldn't keep Shaq off the boards forever, though, and O'Neal finished with 12 boards and 21 points.
The Pistons came out with a full dose of the energy that seemed to be missing in Tuesday night's series opener.
Wallace scored three baskets early to spark a 13-0 Pistons run that led to a 25-12 lead after one quarter.
It grew to 32-18 when Wallace ripped off an offensive rebound and dished to Antonio McDyess for a slam, and Prince scored an easy baseline drive on an assist from Billups.
Wade almost single-handedly pulled Miami back to within six with about one minute to play in the first half, but Wallace scored on a reverse dunk, then cleaned the defensive boards and launched a full-court pass to Hamilton for a layup. Hamilton then knocked down a 3-pointer on a kick-out pass from Prince and the Pistons had a double-digit halftime lead at 48-37.
"We used Ben a little more offensively and that got us off to a good start," said Detroit coach Flip Saunders. "We needed to have an equal-opportunity offense, and when Ben wasn't scoring he was making good decisions and had some great back-door passes to Rip for a couple baskets."
Wallace turned his attention to defense early in the second half, drawing three fouls on O'Neal, two of them charges, in the first six minutes. He also broke up an alley-oop pass as the only man back in a 3-on-1 Heat drive as Miami was guilty of seven turnovers in seven minutes.
Meanwhile, Billups got out of the gate after being held scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting in the first half.
He hit a 3-pointer for his first basket at the 9:40 mark of the third quarter, then immediately drove on Jason Williams as the Pistons went up by as many as 18 points in the third quarter.
Billups and Rasheed Wallace each scored nine points for Detroit in the third quarter.
Wade, Miami's splendid point guard, scored a game-high 32 points, but struggled during the third quarter as the Pistons sent a swarm of defenders in his direction. When he's unable to penetrate, then O'Neal isn't as big a factor in the paint.
NOTES: Detroit is 7-2 this postseason at the Palace and 9-4 when holding opponents under 100 points. Detroit's Prince has played in 77 playoff games and 307 games overall since the start of the 2003-04 season. That's the most for any NBA player in both cases. Last night's crowd of 22,076 was Detroit's 135th straight sellout. Miami's Wade has scored 20-plus points 13 times during the '06 playoffs. The Heat had a four-game road winning streak snapped.
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