In an increasingly tight battle for playoff positioning, the Miami Heat defeated the Detroit Pistons 105-96 Saturday night to not only secure an important win but also put more distance between the two teams in the race to the postseason.
Newly acquired forward Luke Babbitt made his first start for the Heat with Josh Richardson shifting to the backcourt and Justise Winslow back to the bench.
Miami stepped up big time in the final quarter to wrestle control of the game after a series of runs between both teams swung the momentum several times throughout the game. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond took control of the paint early and Hassan Whiteside quickly went to the bench soon after with two fouls, a bigger problem on this particular night because Bam Adebayo was not available for personal reasons.
Though Griffin (31 points) had his best game so far with the Pistons and Drummond was a beast inside with an impressive 11 offensive rebounds, the Heat had little else in terms of offensive firepower to worry themselves with. In contrast, the home team secured the win with contributions from several players. Six players finished in double-figures, Richardson (looking much more comfortable and confident at shooting guard) and Olynyk led the way with 17 points each. Though Whiteside struggled again with another wobbly offensive performance, he did grab 19 rebounds in 25 minutes — eight of them on offense. Best of all different players at different times during the second half stepped up to make crucial plays, whether it was easy baskets for Winslow and James Johnson after a steal, or a timely 3-pointer from Olynyk and Babbitt.
Miami twice held an 18-point lead but the Pistons to their credit fought back both times. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the Heat made their final stand by creating turnovers, not allowing the ball to stick on offense and balanced scoring.