AUBURN HILLS –– The Miami Heat have been known to take a game or two off in December.
Unfortunately for the Pistons, you don’t get to take advantage of that twice in a week. Five days after losing 107-97 to Detroit at home, the fired-up Heat came into the Palace and cruised to an easy 110-95 victory Sunday evening.
“We knew their focus was going to be a lot better after we beat them up there, and you could see that at the beginning of the game and again at the beginning of the third quarter,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “We knew it was coming, but knowing they are going to be playing hard is one thing. Stopping them is something else entirely.”
Less than four minutes into the game, the Heat led 12-2 with almost every basket coming on the fast break. Detroit missed eight of its first nine shots, and watched helplessly as Miami flew down the court for layups and a couple pull-up 3-pointers.
Shane Battier, playing a few miles from his old stomping grounds at Detroit Country Day, said that the Heat knew they were going to need energy and speed to handle Detroit’s frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith.
“They have a cornerstone guy in Drummond — that’s the kind of guy that you build a franchise around,” said Battier, who was already at Country Day when Drummond was born. “His talent is that apparent, but they are still trying to blend everything together, and that’s not going to happen every night.
“We played with great energy tonight, and that’s the way to mitigate size. We played a very low-energy game the first time in Miami, and that’s when their size really made a difference.
The Pistons slowed things down after the initial barrage, only trailing 59-53 at the half, but the Heat came out strong again in the third quarter. This time, they scored 10 of the first 12 points, moving the lead to 14 points. The deficit never got back to single digits as Miami’s defense shut down every Pistons rally.
“We talked about it after that game — how that team has gotten to the point where they’ve won everything they have won,” Cheeks said. “When you know they are coming like they were tonight, you still have to play a great game to beat them.”
It’s simple to say that the Heat won because they are the better team, but they also took advantage of a favorable matchup that didn’t exist in the first game. With Rodney Stuckey (knee) joining Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups in street clothes, Detroit couldn’t put two strong ball-handlers on the court at the same time. That slowed down their ball movement, which allowed the Heat to help Chris Bosh and Battier inside.
“They always front guys in the post, and bring help from the weak side,” Cheeks said. “When we had Jennings and Stuckey on the floor up there, we could take advantage of that with our passing. Tonight, we didn’t have that option, and it let them take away a lot of our passes into the paint.”
That left the Pistons shooting a lot of jumpers, something they don’t do very well. Sunday was even worse than usual, as Detroit made just eight of 37 (22 percent) of its shots from outside the paint, including a scarcely believable 1-17 on two-point jumpers.
“We had more commitment defensively tonight,” said Heat coach Eric Spoelstra. “We were tougher on the glass than we were the last couple games, and we finished plays. That’s how you win games on the road.”
That’s not just a recipe for winning on the road, but the best way to beat Detroit. Even the best team in basketball has recognized that, if you let Detroit’s big guys take over a game, they are going to be able to play with anyone in the league.
“That team has a huge upside,” Chris Bosh said. “They have a lot of young players, and they just have to keep working. The East is wide open right now, and if they trust in their coaching staff, they can really put it together. There’s not a huge difference between a good team and a bad team, and those guys just have to make up their mind that they want to go up, not down.”