Work in Sports
AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Miami Heat exorcised the demons that befell them the last two seasons in the first round of the playoffs.
The Heat advanced past the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997 by completing a three-game sweep of their Eastern Conference series with a 91-72 rout of the Detroit Pistons.
Favored in each of the past two seasons in the first round, the Heat were knocked out each time by their nemesis -- the New York Knicks. Last season, they became the first top seed from the East to lose a first-round series since the playoffs went to 16 teams in 1984.
"We're pleased that we could win and move on, but I think we have to keep things in perspective," Miami coach Pat Riley said.
This season, the Heat were able to complete their first sweep in franchise history despite playing the entire series without star guard Tim Hardaway, who is suffering from sprains in his right ankle and left foot.
Hardaway is questionable to return for the conference semifinals and will have at least another week off.
Clarence Weatherspoon came off the bench to score a playoff career-high 18 points for second-seeded Miami, which will face the Knicks or Toronto Raptors in the next round. The Knicks hold a 2-0 lead in that series with Toronto and go for the sweep on Sunday.
"It's only fitting that we go through New York to get accomplished what we want to do as a team," Heat center Alonzo Mourning said.
Playing without All-Star Grant Hill, who underwent surgery on Friday for a broken ankle, the Pistons endured their latest playoff failure. Detroit has lost its last five first-round series -- the last four with Hill -- since advancing to the conference finals in 1990-91.
The Pistons looked lost for much of the contest without Hill and may need to find a replacement for their superstar next season.
He is an impending free agent.
Playing with added emotion with their leader down, the Pistons came out with extra incentive and actually led by four points after the opening 12 minutes.
However, the Heat came out on fire in the second quarter, making their first seven shots of the period and reeling off the first 15 points to take a 33-22 lead on a 17-footer by Otis Thorpe with 7:56 to play before halftime.
Detroit would not go away and answered with a 15-3 spurt. Jud Buechler made a pair of 3-pointers in the surge that gave the Pistons their last lead, 37-36, with 90 seconds left.
Weatherspoon and Hardaway's replacement, Anthony Carter, made baskets before Mourning made two free throws, giving Miami a 42-37 advantage at the break. The Heat led the rest of the way.
"That was really disappointing and really embarrassing," Pistons interim coach George Irvine said. "I'm sorry. We played poorly and they played well. We talk about having people step up, but we didn't have anybody step up. I thought in the first quarter we were really into it.
"Maybe we played tired, but I don't know why we'd be more tired than they were. I thought some guys looked kind of scared."
Weatherspoon made 8-of-11 shots from the field and also pulled down 10 rebounds. Carter had another solid effort running the offense, scoring eight points and handing out nine assists.
The effort by Weatherspoon spearheaded a big day from the Miami bench, which outscored the Pistons' reserves, 45-17.
Mourning added 12 points and nine rebounds -- all in the first three quarters -- for the Heat, who shot 52 percent (37-of-71).
Without Hill, the Pistons relied heavily on Jerry Stackhouse. He came into the contest averaging 24.5 points in the first two games but was a non-factor in the opening half, scoring 11 points while making just 3-of-10 shots. Stackhouse finished with 25 points but it was not nearly enough for Detroit.
"Defensively, we got a pretty good handle on things. Not having Grant Hill 100 percent changed everything for them," Riley said.
"Not having to worry about him meant we could load up on Jerry and overplay Lindsey (Hunter). As long as we took care of the transition game, we thought we could defend them."
"You have to give credit to Miami. They made plays and we didn't," Stackhouse said. "We had the shots, but we didn't knock them down. They deserved to win the game."
Before the series started, Stackhouse was quoted as saying he wanted to play Miami.
"He (Stackhouse) had to get a lot of attempts to get his stats," Mourning said. "We made him work for every point. He forced the issue and we capitalized on some of his mistakes. He wanted Miami, now we're going on and he's at home."
Michael Curry got the start in Hill's absence and chipped in 14 points for the Pistons, who shot just 31.5 percent (23-of-73) and were outrebounded, 47-34.
Detroit, which ranked second in the regular season at 103.5 points per game, averaged just 79.6 in this series.
Miami did not waist any time assuming control in the third quarter. Dan Majerle hit a 3-pointer to start the period and made another shot from behind the arc, providing the Heat with a 53-41 advantage.
The Heat, who led by at least nine points the rest of the way, closed the period with a 10-2 burst that extended the lead to 70-52.
Miami led by 25 points on three occasions in the fourth quarter, the last time on a 3-pointer by rookie Rodney Buford that made it 87-62 with 3:18 remaining.