MIAMI (AP) – The pressure of Game 7 didn’t faze the defending champions.

In a Game 7 that stayed close the entire 48 minutes, the Detroit Pistons summoned their experience and played with poise down the stretch of the fourth quarter to defeat the Miami Heat 88-82 Monday night.

Now, it’s back to the NBA Finals for the team often dismissed as a fluke champion – a disparaging title if there ever was one, but one the Pistons can get rid of with four more wins.

Dwyane Wade played for Miami after missing Game 6 because of a rib muscle injury, but he was only good for brief stretches and failed to score over the final 15 minutes.

Richard Hamilton scored 22 points, Rasheed Wallace added 20 – including two foul shots that put Detroit ahead for good with 1:26 remaining – and the Pistons closed the game with a 10-3 run to hand Miami yet another heartbreaking Game 7 loss on its home floor.

Detroit won for the 10th straight time when needing one victory to clinch a series, the second longest such streak behind the Lakers’ record 12-game streak that ended in 2004.

The Pistons also became the first Eastern Conference team in 23 years to win a Game 7 on the road. They open the finals Thursday night at San Antonio.

Wade plays, yet Heat fall in Game 7 against Detroit

Dwyane Wade’s pain Monday night wasn’t limited to his strained right rib muscle.

Wade grimaced throughout Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, occasionally clutching his right side, and clearly wasn’t his usual self. Regardless, he managed to get 20 points and four assists.

And it was all in vain, not enough to propel the Miami Heat into the NBA Finals for the first time.

Detroit ended the series the way it started, winning on Miami’s home floor – and this time, ending the Heat’s season. The defending champion Pistons wasted an early 10-point lead and trailed by six points with 7:11 remaining, but rallied for an 88-82 victory.

Wade – who spent much of the last four days getting treatment on the muscle he strained in Game 5 – was 5-for-6 from the field in the third quarter, helping Miami outscore Detroit 26-19 in the period and possibly put itself in position to advance to the finals against San Antonio.

But he was 0-for-6 in the final quarter, never showing the explosiveness that has been the hallmark of his first two seasons in the league. And that was enough for the Pistons to eke out a rare Game 7 road win; visiting teams are 17-74 all-time on the road in winner-take-all, best-of-seven situations.

The injury kept Wade out of Game 6 in Detroit, and without their scoring leader, the Heat sputtered their way to a 91-66 defeat.

Wade took part in the team’s Monday morning shootaround and received treatment throughout the day, specifics of which were not revealed by the Heat.

“I’m not going to comment on any treatment he may or may not have gotten,” coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Dealing with injuries was commonplace during the postseason for Miami, which had all five starters battling some sort of painful malady. Shaquille O’Neal had a sore thigh, Damon Jones a sore heel, Eddie Jones an ankle problem and stitches over one eye, and Udonis Haslem played a badly dislocated finger on his left hand.

“It’s Game 7. The heck with all of that,” Van Gundy said before the game. “You’re out there, you’ve got to play and you’ve got to play well. There’s no excuses that anybody cares about at this point, nor should they care about. It’s two teams playing for a chance to go to the NBA Finals. That’s all that matters.”

Excuse or no, the hurting didn’t help. And now, the real hurting for Miami begins.

AP-ES-06-06-05 2307EDT


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