As expected Dwyane Wade missed Sunday's rematch against the Pistons, a precautionary measure to limit his ongoing knee trouble. Michael Beasley, an early-season surprise for the Heat that has provided a regular boost off the bench, also sat out the game as he nurses a sore hamstring. Their absence was a motivational factor for Miami to come out strong and imprint their usual style of play early and often.
Or, as LeBron James told reporters prior to the game, "We gotta be ready from the jump."
And ready they were.
Chris Bosh, who continues to fight through a shooting slump, was immediately aggressive, grabbing a rebound on a Detroit miss, driving the length of the court and laying it up for the first points of the game. Bosh then made a steal, fired off a half-court pass and assisting on Mario Chalmers' layup for a quick 4 - 0 lead. Miami would push the score 16 - 5, hitting 7 of their first 10 shots and scoring their first 12 points off of fast break opportunities.
Despite the early attacking style, Miami was only able to hold a 7-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Pistons Head Coach Maurice Cheeks inserted Kyle Singler (10 points), Jonas Jerebko (12 points) and infrequently-used forward Charlie Villanueva (10 points) into the game, moves that reaped immediate rewards for Detroit. Villaneuva, who had not played since late-November, hit a long three-pointer to cut the Heat lead to 2.
But Miami stayed aggressive, playing their unique brand of basketball, a style that has been so successful during this young season. Miami's Norris Cole (8 points), Rashard Lewis (9 points) and Chris Andersen (10 points) made key contributions off the bench and an emphatic Bosh dunk pushed the lead up to 10 with 7 minutes left in the second quarter.
The lead would soon evaporate, seemingly along with the referees' whistles, as Detroit's young frontcourt camped out regularly in the paint. Andre Drummond (19 points, 14 rebounds), Josh Smith (13 points) and Greg Monroe (10 points, 7 rebounds) rolled out their sleeping bags in the restricted area and used their height advantage for tip-ins and layups that closed the Miami lead to 3.
LeBron James, ignoring the smell of roasted marshmallows, closed the first half with 6 of his 24 points, and the lead grew, 59 - 53.
As they have done regularly during the Big 3 era, Miami exploded offensively in the third quarter. Taking advantage of Detroit missing 5 of their first 6 shots, the Heat went on a 14 - 4 run, capped off by back-to-back three-pointers by Ray Allen (starting in place of Wade and scoring 18 points) and Chalmers, pushing the lead up to 17. Shane Battier, though clearly outsized, did yeoman's work on limiting the Detroit frontcourt and Roger Mason, Jr. (perhaps troubled by trade speculation reported earlier this week) shot 4 of 6 from long-range and helped Miami close the third period with the score now 91 - 70.
By this point, the outcome was never really in doubt. The Heat continued to shoot just-well-enough in the fourth quarter, even going scoreless in the last 3 minutes of play. Despite being out-rebounded by Detroit (34 to 44), Miami found its offensive identity and was a much-better team than the one that lost to the Pistons just last Tuesday.
With that said, Miami (16 - 5) can now focus on their greatest threat to the Eastern Conference throne - and perhaps the NBA Championship - when they take on the Indiana Pacers, Tuesday at 7 P.M.