MIAMI (AP) – Dwyane Wade was practically silent in the middle two quarters, not even finding the opportunity to shoot against Detroit’s zone defense.

He awoke in the fourth, just in time to put the Miami Heat on the cusp of a trip to the NBA Finals.

Wade scored 12 of his 31 points in the final quarter Monday night, when the Heat pulled away for an 89-78 win and a 3-1 lead over the two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Pistons.

A year ago, two chances at unseating Detroit weren’t enough, as the Pistons came back from 3-2 down to beat the Heat in seven games. Now, though, the Heat get three cracks at breaking through – and, unlike in 2005, have a healthy Wade and Shaquille O’Neal to carry them on that mission.

O’Neal had 21 points – albeit with a 5-for-15 night at the foul line – and nine rebounds, while Udonis Haslem added 16 points for the Heat.

Tayshaun Prince had 15 points and Chauncey Billups added 14 for the Pistons.

Teams taking 3-1 leads in the penultimate round – either the conference finals or division finals, as they were once known – have prevailed 40 times in 43 previous opportunities, and each of the last 16 teams with a 3-1 cushion has gone on to reach the NBA Finals.

The Pistons came in saying their confidence wasn’t rattled by the 2-1 deficit, although there clearly was some strain about the team in recent days; Ben Wallace said he believed coach Flip Saunders forgot about the team’s defensive emphasis and Rasheed Wallace was angry Detroit kept fouling O’Neal late in Game 3.

And those oh-so-resilient Pistons – who’ve rallied from 2-1 or 3-2 series deficits five times in the last four postseasons – had to dig deep in Game 4, trailing by 14 points late in the first half as a white-towel-waving Miami crowd worked itself into a frenzy.

The Pistons answered with a 29-11 run over a 7-minute stretch – capped by Rasheed Wallace’s 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the third quarter – for a 57-53 lead. But Detroit managed only three more points in the quarter, and Wade hit a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left to put Miami up 62-60 entering the fourth.

Wade went 19:20 of on-court time – 22:09 of game time – without a shot, a span ending 15 seconds into the fourth quarter. Wade missed that try, a short jumper in the lane blocked by Antonio McDyess.

His next two shots were highlight-caliber.

Taking a pass from Gary Payton, Wade drove diagonally down the lane, leaped over McDyess, got fouled, tossed the ball over his shoulder and scored, his three-point play putting Miami up 65-61.

And a jumper over Hamilton, who was right in his face as the shot clock expired, gave the Heat a 69-63 lead with 9:27 left, prompting Wade to punch the sky.

The celebration never ended the rest of the way, either, as the Heat continued rolling. Payton’s 3-pointer with 3:02 left pushed Miami’s lead to 85-71 and sealed the win.

Rasheed Wallace had 12, Richard Hamilton 11 and Lindsey Hunter 10 for Detroit, which had five players in double figures to Miami’s three, but allowed the Heat to shoot 55 percent for the game, while making 39 percent of its own tries.

Prince had three points in Game 3; he had 11 in the first quarter of Game 4, carrying Detroit early. He was 5-for-9 in the period; his teammates were 1-for-9, and one of Prince’s misses was a 55-footer that hit the backboard and rattled off the rim as time expired.

Meanwhile, Miami hit seven consecutive shots in one stretch of the opening quarter, with Wade and O’Neal – surprise! – leading the way again, combining for 16 points in the period and staking their team to a 23-17 lead entering the second.

Wade set up James Posey for a 3-pointer with 2:11 left in the half to give the Heat what was their biggest lead at 42-28, but the Pistons closed the half on a 10-2 run – then opened the third quarter on an 8-2 burst, with Billups hitting three straight jumpers to tie the game at 46.

Miami scored the game’s next five points, before Detroit answered with six straight – and took a 52-51 lead, its first since the opening minutes on Prince’s jumper with 6:29 left, in the third.

Notes: NBA commissioner David Stern was at the game, as was NBA senior vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson. … The Pistons, who averaged 15.3 fast-break points against Miami in the regular season, had none in the first half. … Former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino chatted and shook hands with new Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper before tip-off, and Miami Hurricanes football coach Larry Coker was also courtside.

AP-ES-05-29-06 2309EDT