Work in Sports
MIAMI (Ticker) -- With the stars either sidelined or hobbled, the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons were looking for someone to assume a greater scoring role. Jamal Mashburn answered the call.
Mashburn scored a playoff career-high 29 points and drained two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Heat -- a postseason disappointment in the past two years -- opened their Eastern Conference first-round series with a fairly easy 95-85 victory over the Pistons.
Miami held the NBA's second-highest scoring team during the regular season more than 18 points below its average behind a huge defensive effort from Alonzo Mourning, who blocked a team playoff-record eight shots.
"I'm just really excited about this," Mourning said. "I know what we as a group have gone through in the past four years. Collectively we are going to all have to step up. Tonight our second unit stepped up and gave us a big boost."
The second-seeded Heat, who lost to the New York Knicks in the first round each of the last two seasons, also host Game Two of this series on Tuesday night.
"It was a good way for us to start the series," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "It think the players realize by how tired they are right now, just how much of an effort it is going to take. We can't let the win and three days rest defuse this effort."
Miami won without All-Star point guard Tim Hardaway, who is suffering from sprains in his right ankle and left foot and watched the game in street clothes. But he was far from an innocent bystander, exchanging words with Detroit guard Jerry Stackhouse as the teams left the court.
"We were just getting a little more excitement for Game Two," Stackhouse said of the incident. "I see these guys in the summertime and we're going to have a little jawing here and there. But that's all it is."
Meanwhile, Detroit forward Grant Hill was limited to 13 points -- none in the fourth quarter -- and was clearly slowed by an ankle bruise. Hill finished tied for third in the league in scoring during the regular season with 25.7 points per game.
"No excuses," Hill said. "They were the better team today and they deserved the win. They outplayed us as a team today."
"Grant Hill not being 100 percent makes it difficult," said Pistons interim coach George Irvine. "I don't want to play him if it's going to hurt him further. He said it was bothering him but he wanted to play."
Trying to pick up the slack for Hill was Stackhouse, who scored 12 of his 23 points in the final period. But most of those points came after Mashburn, who also had five assists, and the Heat had taken control of the contest.
"I know the type of player that I'm supposed to be and I'm just pushing to get better," said Mashburn. "I'm going to have to do a lot in this series, so there might be nights when I don't score 29 points. But hopefully I'll get 10 assists and we'll keep winning."
A 6-8 seventh-year forward who has struggled in playoffs past, Mashburn drained a 3-pointer during an 11-2 run that provided the Heat with their biggest lead, 79-64, with 8:22 remaining.
His 3-pointer with just under three minutes left pushed Miami's advantage to 89-75 after the Pistons had fought within eight points.
"I think you saw the greatness in Jamal," Riley said. "There comes a time when a player plants his feet and steps up and Jamal did that today."
Mashburn had 10 points in the final 12 minutes. He averaged 17.5 points during the regular season, second on the team to Mourning (21.8 ppg). He came in with a career playoff average below 10 per game but connected on 10-of-17 shots, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range, and went 7-of-8 at the foul line.
"This win feels good, but we're still not where we want to be," said Miami guard Dan Majerle. "We want to stay focused because we want to win Tuesday night."
The Heat took the lead for good on two free throws by Majerle that made it 37-36 with 1:59 to play in the first half. But they did not take control until the early stages of the fourth quarter.
Four quick points, two apiece by Jerome Williams and Christian Laettner, cut what was a 10-point deficit entering the final period to 68-62. It was the cloest the Pistons would get.
Miami's Clarence Weatherspoon made two free throws and after misses by John Crotty and Williams, Mashburn's 3-pointer from the right side made it 73-62 with 9:58 remaining.
Detroit's Michael Curry hit a jumper but Otis Thorpe was left alone underneath and threw down a dunk. Following a Pistons' timeout, rookie Anthony Carter scored off the break and Mashburn's jumper from the left side just in front of the 3-point line gave Miami a commanding 15-point lead.
Carter started in place of Hardaway and had 10 points, seven assists, four steals and three turnovers in 35 minutes.
"(Carter) is fearless," said Riley. "He got tired at the end of the game, and that's why we had some trouble finishing them off.
Tonight he needs to go home and get some rest."
The Heat also received 20 points and nine rebounds from Mourning and 11 and 10 from Majerle as they connected on 47 percent (34-of-73) of their shots while holding Detroit to 43 percent (29-of-67) from the field.
"We had trouble keeping Zo out of the lane all night," Irvine said. "He's patrolling the lane. Maybe we need to stand around like every other NBA team and isolate and play that kind of basketball."
Williams had 10 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons, who held a 37-35 advantage on the boards but misfired on 11 of 32 free throws.
"The Heat played very well and I didn't think we played as well," said Irvine. "That was the game. I thought that we competed, it's just that the Heat play a style of defense that is very aggressive and very good."
"For the most part I think we matched their energy, but we didn't shoot the ball particularly well," said Stackhouse. "I think we will come back and play a lot better than we did today."