Heat cook Pistons, 98-83

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MIAMI (AP) – In this situation a year ago, Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal saw the Detroit Pistons swipe away their hopes of playing for a championship.

Here comes their chance at redemption.

Wade scored 35 points, O’Neal added 27 points and 12 rebounds, and the Miami Heat beat the Pistons 98-83 on Saturday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Heat’s superstar duo combined to make 24 of 32 shots from the floor, and both played a big role in ensuring that Miami survived Detroit’s 11-0 run to open the final quarter – a burst that got the Pistons within one point, after the Heat led for most of the night.

Antoine Walker had 11 points and Udonis Haslem added 10 for Miami, which held a 2-1 series lead over Detroit in last year’s East finals – before the Pistons rallied to win in seven games.

Of the last 32 series that were tied at a game apiece, Game 3 winners have prevailed 24 times. But the Pistons have recovered from 2-1 deficits three times since 2003 – including last year, a defeat the Heat haven’t forgotten.

Chauncey Billups scored 11 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter for Detroit. Richard Hamilton added 20 points before fouling out and Rasheed Wallace had 11. Tayshaun Prince was a non-factor for Detroit, getting only three points.

“We were more aware of him tonight,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. Game 4 is Monday night in Miami, before the series returns to suburban Detroit on Wednesday night.

Up by 12 entering the fourth, the Heat nearly gave it all away in the first four minutes of the period. Detroit opened the quarter with an 11-0 run. Antonio McDyess had a layup and a free throw, Wallace hit a jumper and – after O’Neal and Wade both missed a pair of free throws 35 seconds apart – Billups hit back-to-back 3-pointers, getting the Pistons within 74-73 with 7:44 left.

Gary Payton missed a 3-pointer, and Detroit had a chance to take the lead on the easiest of shots – a dunk. McDyess went up and tried, but Wade somehow knocked it away, then made an even bigger statement on the offensive end eight seconds later.

He drove past Hamilton, drew contact from McDyess, shot – and the ball bounced on the rim before falling through, the three-point play giving Miami a 77-73 edge. O’Neal spun away from Ben Wallace for a jump hook 25 seconds later, pushing the lead back to six.

Minutes later, with his team trailing by eight, Pistons coach Flip Saunders went to the Hack-a-Shaq with 4:28 left, and it worked.

Sort of, anyway.

O’Neal missed both tries after being intentionally fouled, keeping Detroit within eight – but the Heat center got his own rebound, got fouled again, and hit each shot that time to put Miami up 85-75.

“That’s just a way of telling me you can’t stop me,” O’Neal said. “So, thank you. I appreciate it.” In turn, the Heat went to the Hack-a-Ben, putting Ben Wallace on the line with 3:32 left. He was 1-for-6 at the time, then missed two more, and Wade got the rebound.

Walker hit Udonis Haslem for a dunk on the ensuing possession, giving Miami an 89-79 edge. And that essentially sealed the outcome.

Udonis Haslem started and finished an early 9-0 run to give Miami a 13-7 lead. The two baskets doubled Haslem’s total from the series’ first two games, when he was a combined 1-for-12 at Detroit.

Wade started 7-for-8 from the field for 15 points, including 13 consecutive Heat points in one stretch – the last coming when he hit back-to-back jumpers in the first minute of the second quarter, giving Miami a 30-24 lead. He didn’t score again in the half, and the Heat still stretched the cushion to 49-38 by intermission.

Walker scored nine of his 11 first-half points in the second quarter, which ended with the Pistons angry over calls and non-calls. Ben Wallace got his second foul with 23 seconds left after pushing Gary Payton out of bounds; he contended he was simply standing still, and replays seemed to support that opinion.

On the next inbounds play, Lindsey Hunter appeared to be holding Wade’s jersey with one hand, his wrist with the other – and then argued with referees that Wade pushed him.

Hunter had more to complain about moments later; he fell after Walker set a pick to free Wade, who lobbed the ball for an O’Neal dunk that put Miami up by 11 at the break.

Detroit’s starting backcourt of Billups and Hamilton combined for 21 points in the first quarter, but only five in the second when the Pistons were outscored 23-14. The Pistons further hurt themselves in the second quarter by going 3-for-10 from the foul line, in a period where Miami wasn’t awarded a single free throw.

The Pistons shot 17 of the game’s first 20 free throws, with Miami going more than 17 minutes without a trip to the line. Wade hit a pair with 7:42 left in the third to end the drought, O’Neal hit two about a minute later, and the Heat stars had 18 points in the period to help Miami carry a 74-62 lead into the fourth.

And although that cushion all but vanished, the Heat survived.

Notes: Miami improved to 18-4 in its last 22 home playoff games. … Tayshaun Prince hit a shot from the left side with 8:23 remaining in the half; problem was, he was out of bounds and trying to throw a lob to Antonio McDyess on an out-of-bounds play. … Hamilton had a three-point play with 1:50 left in the first quarter; referee Mark Wunderlich motioned the foul was before his shot, but ref Tom Washington said the shot was good. It counted. … Celebs in the sellout crowd included hip-hop mogul Diddy, singers Janet Jackson and Usher, plus Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

AP-ES-05-27-06 2309EDT

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