Heat's slow start costs Miami down stretch

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Even on a night marred by long
stretches of offensive ineptitude, the Miami Heat almost pulled off
a comeback for the ages.

Alas, it was in vain.

A stunning flurry at the end couldn't undo the offensive wrongs
committed in the first 46 minutes, and the Detroit Pistons managed
to even the Eastern Conference finals with a 92-88 win in Game 2
Thursday night.

Down 83-71 with 1:46 left, the Heat scored 17 points -- five more
than they managed in the entire opening quarter -- in a 97-second

"They made some tough shots down the stretch. ... A dogfight,"
Pistons center Ben Wallace said.

The Heat were 4-for-5 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul
line in their wild game-ending spurt, in which they drew within two
when Dwyane Wade hit a turnaround, fallaway 3-pointer from the left
corner with 9.8 seconds left. But the comeback ended there.

"It means something, but it doesn't," Heat coach Pat Riley
said. "It means something, yeah, that we hung in there. We could
have gotten lucky, actually. ... We hung in there and had a shot at
it, but when they opened the lead to 18 points, it was pretty hard
for us to come back."

Miami shot only 42.5 percent from the field, turned the ball
over 18 times and connected on a mere 10 percent of its 3-point
attempts in the first three quarters.

The biggest issue, though, was balance -- specifically, Miami's
lack of it offensively.

Wade had 32 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 21, but no other
Heat player managed more than seven until the final minutes.

"You've got to have four or five guys play well. ... We didn't
get that tonight," Riley said.

Antoine Walker went 3-for-12 from the floor. Udonis Haslem was
1-for-5, making him 1-for-12 in the series. Gary Payton, who had 14
points in Game 1, was 1-for-6 in Game 2. Meanwhile, four Detroit
starters reached double figures; the one who didn't, Ben Wallace,
was 4-for-4 for nine points.

And that was the downfall; for the first time in their last six
games, the Heat didn't get the widespread production that Riley
pleaded for all season.

And the Heat -- who missed 12 of their last 14 shots in the
opening period and fell behind by 14 points in the opening minutes
-- lost for the first time in their last six games.

The series heads back to Miami on Saturday, now tied at a game
apiece. True, the Heat did swipe home-court advantage away from the
two-time defending East kings with a win in Game 1, but the Pistons
clearly regained at least some of their lost momentum in Game 2.

If there was an omen for Miami, it came early.

O'Neal extended his thick right arm, poised to slam an alley-oop
lob from Wade and give the Heat an early one-point lead about four
minutes into the game.

He cupped the ball, yet managed only to clang it off the rim.
The carom wound up sailing out of bounds near midcourt, the Pistons
retained the lead -- and kept it the rest of the way.

By the time Miami found its stride Thursday, it was simply too

Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer with 3:07 left in the third to
give Detroit a 66-48 lead, part of a run where he scored nine
straight Pistons points -- the last a jumper for a 70-54 lead with
1:08 remaining.

It looked over.

It wasn't -- not yet, anyway.

The Heat rallied gamely, getting within 77-71 when Wade found
O'Neal for a score with 4:15 left to play -- ending what was a 17-7
Miami run. And they had one more spurt left, but after Wade's
3-pointer that got his team within two points, Miami never got
another shot off.