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Supporting cast aids Heat

Miami starts strong as Pistons sputter in opener

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Miami Heat have other players they can go to besides Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade.

Good thing, too.

The veteran trio of Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Jason Williams -- brought on to help O'Neal and Wade get past the Pistons -- were so effective in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals that they didn't need superstar efforts from their superstar duo to steal home-court advantage from Detroit.

Walker finished with 17 points, Payton came off the bench to score 14, and Williams had 10 to lead Miami to a 91-86 victory last night.

``It's not like we're rookies," Payton said.

Wade, who sat out more than 10 straight minutes of the second half with four fouls, had 25 points in 27 minutes and O'Neal scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half -- making the Heat feel even better about starting the series strong.

``I think that's the first time this season, other than injuries, that they've both been out for extended periods," Heat coach Pat Riley said. ``That's why the last four or five minutes of the second period might have determined the game, even though they came back in the third."

The Pistons, who trailed by as much as 12 in the first quarter and 9 in the second, took their first lead on Chauncey Billups's layup with 6:55 to go in the third quarter.

The two-time defending conference champions didn't enjoy the lead long.

Miami snatched control of the game with a 20-5 run, taking a 75-65 lead midway through the fourth.

``Their supporting cast was good -- and that was the difference," Billups said.

Detroit's backcourt scored a lot, but missed a ton of shots.

Richard Hamilton had 22 points on 9-of-22 shooting and Billups finished with 19 on 6-of-19 shooting.

``We missed shots that we normally make," Billups said.

Detroit's Tayshaun Prince scored 16 points, reserve Antonio McDyess added 10, and Rasheed Wallace had a quiet night -- scoring just 7 points after missing seven of 10 shots -- perhaps slowed down by an injured ankle.

Game 2 is tomorrow night at The Palace before the best-of-seven series shifts to Miami.

``The game becomes huge, no question," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. ``We have to grab the momentum of the series back."

Wade was called for his third foul with 7:47 left in the first half, with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting, and O'Neal went to the bench later with three fouls and 12 points after missing only one of six shots.

With Miami's leaders on the bench, the Pistons seemed to have a perfect opportunity to their first lead. But the Heat's role players, led by Payton, turned a 3-point advantage into a 48-39 lead late in the first half.

The same scenario played out shortly after Wade was called for his fourth foul with 7:14 left in the third quarter. After Wade went back to the bench, Detroit went ahead 60-55 -- its largest lead -- before missing 12 straight shots, falling behind by 8 and failing to mount much of a comeback.

``That's what it's going to take -- a total team effort against a championship team like Detroit," O'Neal said. ``Our two main guys got into some foul trouble, but they just came and played good ball, moved the ball and hit open shots."

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