By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2005
MIAMI - All week long the talk of the NBA's Eastern Conference showdown has been Shaquille O'Neal's bruised right thigh. But Wednesday night, the biggest bruise was the one left on the defending champion Detroit Pistons courtesy of standout Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
After an uncharacteristically poor performance in the series opening loss Monday, Wade simply refused to fade in Game Two, helping Miami defeat Detroit 92-86 in a tense playoff contest at the American Airlines Arena.
Wade had been virtually unstoppable in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He averaged better than 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, a feat that put him in the elite playoff company of such legends as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Cousy.
But Monday, he managed only seven of 25 shots, never finding his rhythm. So Tuesday, the second-year player from Marquette spent extra time studying video tape of his subpar effort. He noticed he was rushing, rather than varying the speed of his play. So Wednesday, Wade adjusted and it paid off.
He finished with 40 points, including the final two of the night on a break-away layup that iced the critical victory. The series now moves to Detroit, where the third game will be played Sunday night.
"Dwyane was obviously fabulous tonight," said Heat coach Stan Van Gundy. "You can't be great, great, great every night. ... Dwyane for two years has been a guy that when you find an answer to him, he'll go back and take a look and make some adjustments himself. This isn't a guy who just writes things off. He's not a guy who makes excuses."
"I just wanted to be more aggressive than I was the first night on driving the ball to the hole, not looking for fouls, just looking to finish," Wade said. "As I did that, the rest of the game opened up for me."
O'Neal got off to a good start, having returned to the lineup Monday with mixed results after two weeks of inactivity. But Shaq is still not back to his dominant form. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. His layup with 3:53 left broke a 78-78 tie and gave Miami a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
But it was a play by O'Neal well before the game that may have been just as important. He called Wade at his house in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
"I thought Shaq was crazy when he called because I looked at the time - I think it said, 3:45, 2:45, something (like that)," Wade said. "He just wanted to reiterate to me what we talked about on our ride. He told me to come here relaxed calm."
Said O'Neal: "I just wanted to have him hear that before he went to bed. We usually go to bed pretty much around the same time.... I was watching ESPN and he was taking a lot of heat, so I just wanted my voice to be the last thing he heard before he went to sleep."
O'Neal and Wade accounted for eight points in the first quarter, staking Miami to a 24-23 lead. In the second quarter, the Heat ran off a 12-1 streak while the Pistons missed nine straight shots. They also turned the ball over 12 times as Miami led 47-36 at the half.
All that soon changed in the third quarter. After Miami opened up leads of 51-38 and 53-41, Detroit's offense suddenly reawakened. A 9-2 run pulled the Pistons to within 57-52 and they closed the quarter outscoring Miami 11-1 and moved ahead 63-62 on Lindsey Hunter's three-pointer.
The fired-up Pistons built their edge in the fourth quarter to 73-70, but Wade was relentless. He made scored Miami's next eight points, putting the Heat back on top 78-76. The Pistons kept it close, pulling to within three, 87-84, in the closing seconds, but Wade had his way.
"I think I told everybody, you know, he's as good as it gets in our league," said Detroit coach Larry Brown. "And he's a great kid to go along with it.... With that in mind, we still had a chance to to win coming from behind, but he was phenomenal in every way."