AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – Richard Hamilton plucked Shaquille O’Neal’s lazy outlet pass from the air, took one dribble toward the basket and flicked a no-look pass to Ben Wallace for a resounding dunk.

The sound of London’s Big Ben tower chimed over the loudspeaker system, and a sellout crowd stood and roared its approval. The time for the Pistons to be dethroned as champions had not yet arrived.

Hamilton did a little of everything on offense, and the Pistons swarmed and swatted their way to a dominant defensive performance Saturday night to defeat Miami 91-66 and even the best-of-seven series at three games apiece.

Game 7 will be in Miami on Monday night to determine who will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

And the deciding factor may end up being a player who was no factor at all in Game 6 – Dwyane Wade.

A strained rib muscle was too painful for Miami’s emerging superstar to bear, and he decided to sit out just before gametime. Without their leading scorer, the Heat had no one aside from O’Neal to give them an offensive boost – and there were several long stretches when that was exactly what Miami needed.

The 66 points represented the lowest postseason point total in Heat franchise history.

The Pistons used runs of 13-0 and 10-0 in the second quarter to take a 44-32 halftime lead, and the lead grew to 23 before the third quarter was over. Miami didn’t reach 50 points until 8:07 remained in the fourth quarter, and by then the Pistons were already ahead by 26.

Hamilton scored 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting with six assists and six rebounds, Tayshaun Prince scored 16 and Chauncey Billups 14 for the Pistons, whose most telling statistics were generated on the defensive end.

Detroit had an 19-7 advantage in fast-break points and an 18-7 edge in second-chance points, and the biggest factor in the Pistons’ favor – aside from Wade’s absence – was their 25-2 advantage in points off turnovers.

O’Neal led Miami with 24 points, but he was one of the main culprits when it came to failing to take care of the ball, committing six of the Heat’s 19 turnovers.

The Heat now must hope that Wade’s injury starts to heal a lot quicker over the next 48 hours, or the chances increase that it will be the Pistons heading to San Antonio for Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday night. Wade was replaced in the starting lineup by Rasual Butler, who scored 13 points.

Detroit led just 17-16 after the first quarter, failing to take full advantage of Miami’s six turnovers and a 12-7 edge in rebounding. The absence of Wade first started to hurt the Heat in the early part of the second quarter as the Pistons’ pressure against backup point guard Keyon Dooling disrupted the flow of Miami’s offense.

The Heat had turnovers on four of five possessions, the last of which, a 24-second violation, was followed by an 18-footer by Lindsey Hunter to end the 13-0 run and put Detroit ahead 32-20. At that point, the Heat had 11 turnovers and just nine field goals.

But Miami came right back with a 9-0 run, and a high-arcing 3-pointer by Butler made it 34-32 before the Pistons closed the half with a 10-0 run for a 12-point halftime lead.

A 3-pointer by Billups got the lead up to 20, 56-36, with 7:04 left in the third quarter, and a corner jumper by Hamilton extended the run to 24-4 and put the Pistons ahead 58-36.

Miami pulled to 61-45 and had a chance to get close after Rasheed Wallace drew his third foul, but O’Neal bricked two free throws, Hamilton then hit a pair from the line, Dooling forced up a rushed jumper that missed and O’Neal threw away a defensive rebound, leading to Ben Wallace’s rim-rattling dunk.

A 3-pointer by Billups with 7:44 remaining got the lead up to 80-51, and O’Neal went to the bench for good with 41/2 minutes left.

Notes: NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik attended the game and gave a pessimistic reading on where labor negotiations stand, saying he believes a lockout is more likely than not to happen after the current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30. Labor talks broke down last week after the union outlined its latest proposal. … Miami G Shandon Anderson made his first appearance of the series and committed one of Miami’s turnovers the first time he touched the ball. Heat veteran Steve Smith also played for the first time in the series.

AP-ES-06-04-05 2238EDT


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