Miami — As LeBron James swooped in for a layup off a basket cut, Josh Smith was with him every step of the way, forcing a rare inside miss for the reigning MVP.
Smith dribbled the ball upcourt — with James near but not a threat — then lost control of it on the baseline as it spun out of bounds.
Two possessions later, Andre Drummond swatted a Mario Chalmers layup and it caromed right to Dwyane Wade in the corner.
Seconds after Wade’s right hand stayed in the air, compliments of swishing a rare 3-pointer and sending the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd into a frenzy, the long faces and frustrated expressions were evident on the Pistons bench.
As though the effort was there all night, the decision-making and chance didn’t go their way, as the Miami Heat pulled away from the Pistons in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter Monday, winning 102-96, to end the Pistons’ two-game winning streak.
Wade looked in rare form, making his first five shots from the field on his way to a game-high 30 points, looking every bit the player who terrorized the Pistons in the latter half of the last decade.
James had 24 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds while Chris Bosh scored 17.
Brandon Jennings scored 26 with seven assists, while Greg Monroe scored 17 with 11 rebounds and Rodney Stuckey scored 20 with seven rebounds.
The Pistons held Miami to just 39 points in the second half, a major moral victory considering how bad their defense has been this season, but they couldn’t get out of their own way.
Playing Russian roulette against the champs on their home floor, with technical fouls, careless turnovers and questionable decision-making, will only lead to disaster.
Twenty-one turnovers and shooting just 40 percent from the field, aided by Josh Smith shooting 5-of-20 from the field, won’t be enough against mediocre teams, let alone one of Miami’s caliber.
Smith had six turnovers and Stuckey had four, including an offensive foul at the end of the third with the Pistons in position to take a lead.
“We had an opportunity to win the game,” said Smith (12 points, six rebounds, six assists), who had three turnovers in the second half. “We have to be more conscious of the turnovers, especially myself. We matched their physicality and intensity, we just fell short.”
The Heat scored 20 in the second half courtesy of 13 Pistons turnovers
“Against them, you can’t have (turnovers),” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “A lot of them were unforced. I thought our defense was pretty good for the most part, but when you turn it over like that, you can’t overcome it.”
Drummond’s foul trouble, where he picked up two in the first two minutes, prevented them from truly exploiting Miami’s lack of size, and the Pistons had 19 offensive rebounds anyway, slightly negating shooting 41 percent from the field.
“I think if we attack the paint, we have bigger guys from our (small forwards) on down. It kind of helped us out later in the game,” Drummond said.
Drummond had 12 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes, and one can only imagine the effect he could’ve had if he played his normal minutes in the flow of the game.
“We played great as a team, with or without me,” Drummond said. “A couple silly turnovers down the stretch kind of hurt us. I’d love to be out there with my guys, but I made poor decisions on the defensive end.”
Whether the technical fouls charged to Greg Monroe and Smith were earned is certainly cause for debate, but Cheeks earned his, by way of fighting for his players when the whistles weren’t going their way.
“Referees are part of the game, we can get upset with them, but they’re not going anywhere,” Cheeks said. “When we’re on the road, we have to learn how to play.”
Still, though, it wasn’t until Ray Allen hit two triples — sandwiched between the third-quarter buzzer and the fourth — that the Heat had the breathing room they needed to avenge a Dec. 3 loss to the Pistons on their home floor.
They were down by one before Allen’s triple made it 84-80, and the Pistons put together an outstanding third-quarter defensive stand to take a short-lived lead after a four-point play late in the quarter.
They forced the Heat into 20 turnovers, harassing Wade into six when he wasn’t hitting mid-range jumpers or cutting to the basket for passes from James. The Heat can play with that margin for error but the Pistons don’t have that luxury.
As custom for being on the road, the Pistons put together an effort that would win on most nights, but will exit South Beach feeling like they gave one away when they’ve done that too many times this season.