AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Mostly they skirted around the issue.
"Look, the two teams played with who they had," Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said after Detroit beat Miami, 91-66, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, evening the series at 3-3. "They dominated us, period. I'm not getting into making excuses and all that stuff."
But when the missing man in question is Dwyane Wade, and when one of the two teams still standing in the Eastern Conference is playing without one of the best players in the NBA, the impact is obvious.
Wade was sidelined by a strained rib-cage muscle on his right side suffered in the third quarter of Miami's Game 5 victory.
"They are a different team, but it's the playoffs," Pistons center Ben Wallace said. "You've got to rally the troops together, and everybody else has to step it up."
The Heat couldn't do that Saturday. With Wade on the sideline, Miami fell apart. Its 66-point total was the lowest in franchise playoff history.
Will the Heat be forced to play without Wade tonight in Miami in the seventh and deciding game? Wade spent yesterday undergoing massage and electric stimulation on the muscle in an effort to be ready.
"Doesn't matter if he plays or not. Who's ever on the court, we've all got to step up and fill in for each other," Heat center Shaquille O'Neal said. "He has been playing fabulous, and that's the least we can do as a team is fill in for a guy who has been playing like he has been playing."
Wade has been averaging 28 points, six-plus rebounds and seven assists in the playoffs. In Miami's Game 2 and Game 3 victories, he scored 40 and 36 points, respectively.
Wade's absence not only made Detroit's defensive assignment easier, but it also allowed the Pistons to focus on their own offense.
"I don't think our starting backcourt had a turnover [Saturday], and that was huge because we could get our defense set. And certainly they are not the same team without a special player like him," Pistons coach Larry Brown said.
NOTE: A 41-year-old man was charged yesterday in Auburn Hills, Mich., with calling in a fake bomb threat at The Palace two hours before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. David Mathew-Anthony Demeres was charged with two felonies - making a false report of terrorism and making a false report of a bomb threat, police said. He was arraigned yesterday and released on $15,000 cash bond.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Best of seven
Detroit vs. Miami
(Series tied 3-3)
Game 1 - Detroit 90, Miami 81
Game 2 - Miami 92, Detroit 86
Game 3 - Miami 113, Detroit 104
Game 4 - Detroit 106, Miami 96
Game 5 - Miami 88, Detroit 76
Game 6 - Detroit 91, Miami 66
Today - Detroit at Miami, 8 p.m.
San Antonio vs. Phoenix
(San Antonio wins series, 4-1)
Best of seven; *-if necessary
San Antonio vs. Miami-Detroit winner
Thursday - Miami/Detroit at San Antonio, 9 p.m.
Sunday - Miami/Detroit at San Antonio, 9 p.m.
June 14 - San Antonio at Miami/Detroit, 9 p.m.
June 16 - San Antonio at Miami/Detroit, 9 p.m.
*June 19 - San Antonio at Miami/Detroit, 9 p.m.
*June 21 - Miami/Detroit at San Antonio, 9 p.m.
*June 23 - Miami/Detroit at San Antonio, 9 p.m.