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Pistons pound Heat, force Game 7


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The margin was a mirage that, at least for a moment, obscured an outcome that by the end would seem painfully obvious.

Because the Detroit Pistons, with their backs against the wall and their year on the brink, were not ready to kiss the season goodbye.

Down 3-2 to the Heat in the NBA Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons, back in the comfort of the Palace at Auburn Hills, responded with a rout, rolling to a 91-66 victory last night and forcing a Game 7 tomorrow night in Miami.

The Pistons were bolstered by the shooting of Richard Hamilton, the rebounding of Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, and perhaps most of all, the absence of Dwyane Wade.

Hamilton finished with a game-high 24 points, a total matched by Heat center Shaquille O'Neal. Wallace and Prince had nine rebounds apiece.

"They did what they were supposed to do on their home court," O'Neal said. "Now, we have to do what we're supposed to do. Game 7 is a must game. No room for mistakes, no room for 'my faults,' and everyone has to come in and do their part."

Wade, Miami's superb shooting guard, witnessed it all from the sidelines. And the Heat sorely missed the 27 points a game Wade averaged in the first five games of this series.

Wade, who strained a rib-cage muscle on his right side in the third quarter of Thursday's Game 5, was expected to decide by game time whether he could suit up. His inability to play left the Heat looking rudderless.

"I'm not doing interviews," Wade said, surrounded by friends and family, as he stood in a hallway near the loading dock.

And with that, there was to be no detailed explanation of why a strained rib muscle was too painful for Miami's emerging superstar to bear.

The game didn't begin as a blowout. At the end of the first quarter, the Pistons were nursing a one-point lead.

It would not take Detroit long to put some distance between itself and Miami. After allowing Miami to take a one-point lead 2:28 into the second quarter, Detroit scored 13 consecutive points to jump ahead 32-20.

Miami cut the advantage to 32-29 with 3:13 remaining in the second quarter, but that was as close as it would get.

Detroit turned on its afterburners, finishing the first half on a 12-3 run for a 44-32 advantage.

The Pistons, outplayed and discombobulated in Game 5, came into Game 6 with a renewed vigor, holding the Heat to the lowest playoff point total in franchise history.

"I don't know what you want me to tell you about that one, guys. We got dominated," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The biggest difference in the game is, you know, they get 22 more shots than us because we turn it over [16] times to their six, and [allow them to] get 14 offensive rebounds. I mean, you don't have a chance with that."

The Pistons dominated in almost every statistical category, outscoring Miami 30-26 in the paint, putting up 18 second-chance points to Miami's seven, and compiling 19 fast-break points to Miami's seven.

Detroit also came up with 11 steals, Miami only one.

The one thing the Pistons didn't do was significantly outshoot Miami.

"Hey, look, they only shot 41.9 percent," Van Gundy said. "Our half-court defense wasn't awful."

"I just think we had trouble taking care of the ball," O'Neal said. "We played a pretty good first quarter, but second quarter, we just had too many turnovers [five]. They got a lot of easy buckets, and they just played looser."

Miami reserve Steve Smith saw one silver lining to the Heat's performance.

"The great thing about this game is there's a Game 7, and all year we did what we did to have a Game 7 at home," Smith said.

There was no doubt the Pistons would force that Game 7, Hamilton said.

"If we didn't believe we were going to win, we shouldn't have suited up. ... We're world champions, and I think a lot of people forget that we won the championship last year," Hamilton said. "We did a really good job of coming out and playing together tonight."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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