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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cold Detroit Shooting Propels Heat to Victory

Dwyane Wade scored 25 points on 9-11 field goal shooting and the Miami Heat seized home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 91-86 win over Detroit. Wade and Shaquille O'Neal each played less than 30 minutes because of foul trouble, but several Heat players had strong performances that more than compensated for the time that the two Miami superstars spent on the bench. Antoine Walker had 17 points and seven rebounds, Gary Payton scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting and Alonzo Mourning made his presence felt on both ends of the court with six points on 3-3 shooting, four rebounds and two blocked shots in only 16 minutes. The Pistons only committed six turnovers and ran their offense well enough to get a lot of open looks but they simply could not make a shot, connecting on only 31 of 82 attempts from the field (.378), including an abysmal 5-21 (.238) from three point range. Rip Hamilton led Detroit with 22 points but only shot 9-22.

Shaquille O'Neal got off to a quick start, making five of his first six shots from the field and scoring 12 points before foul trouble forced him to the bench with 4:58 remaining in the first half. He seemed to tire in the second half, however, making only one of his last six shots, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds, five turnovers, four fouls and one blocked shot. He can still show flashes of the Shaq of old but one wonders if he can sustain those flashes for an entire game.

With 2:28 remaining in the game, Miami led 84-73 and the Heat employed the "Hack-a-Ben" strategy, with Shaquille O'Neal intentionally fouling Ben Wallace away from the ball. Wallace missed both free throws and on the ensuing Heat possession Detroit "retaliated" by intentionally fouling O'Neal. The Heat were not yet shooting the bonus and Udonis Haslem replaced O'Neal in the lineup before Miami inbounded the ball. After the game, Heat Coach Pat Riley said that intentionally fouling Ben Wallace was not a psychological ploy, nor was it something he planned to do on a regular basis. He pointed out that Detroit often comes back by hitting three pointers and he did not want the Pistons to get off a three point shot on that possession.

History shows that game one winners at this level of the playoffs ultimately win the series in the vast majority of cases. Of course, with all the big games that Detroit has won in the playoffs the past few years it would be silly to declare the series over at this point. Shaq will continue to get into foul trouble because he is older and slower--this causes him to be a half step slow on defense and to rely more on power than finesse on offense. Wade will make the proper adjustment and not commit so many offensive fouls. Miami's role players will not shoot such a high percentage for an entire series. The Pistons can get whatever shots they want against Miami's defense if they are patient in running their offense. What does all of this mean? Detroit will win game two, setting up an exciting Memorial Day Weekend of hoops in Miami.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:26 AM

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