for this game

Affalo sparks rally as Pistons clinch division title

Mar 28, 2008 - 3:40 AM By Chuck Klonke PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Miami Heat have won only 13 games this season, but they gave the Detroit Pistons all they could handle Thursday night.

Rookie guard Arron Afflalo, filling in for the injured Richard Hamilton, scored a career-high 15 points, including five in the last 3:32, to lead the Pistons to an 85-69 victory over the Heat.

Detroit secured its 51st win of the season and clinched its fourth straight Central Division championship.

"It means a lot," Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups said. "Every year we're picked to finish second, third, sometimes even fourth, but at the end we're in first. Yeah, it feels good."

Before the game, Detroit coach Flip Saunders showed the players some of the preseason magazines that had them picked behind Cleveland and Chicago.

"A lot of people said we were too old, that we had played too many tough playoff minutes," Saunders said. "It's tough to sustain the level we've played at the last several years. This (championship) says a lot about the whole team. I compare the season to a bending river. We've gone through all the bends, now that the playoffs are starting we want to be on a straightaway."

Trailing most of the first half, the Pistons jumped ahead quickly at the start of the second half on a pair of baskets by Afflalo.

"We didn't get off to a good start like we should have," Afflalo said. "We should have attacked the post a little more but we made some adjustments in the locker room and had a better second half."

Detroit maintained the lead on some solid defense and nine points by reserve Jason Maxiell. Miami scored only 10 points in the third quarter on 3-of-14 shooting from the field, and the Pistons led, 66-55, going into the final quarter.

"We came out ready to play in the second half," Maxiell said. "We did a better job against the pick-and-roll, and we just picked up the defensive intensity."

The lead eventually reached 13 points, but a basket by Miami's Chris Quinn with just under five minutes remaining brought the Heat within four points, 73-69.

Afflalo hit two free throws to make it 77-69, then he stole the ball, went in for a layup, was fouled and made the free throw to for an 80-69 lead with 2:39 left.

"I thought Arron had a great game," Saunders said. "He gave us great energy, made big plays, made shots, made free throws. We held them to 24 points in the second half. You do that and you're going to have opportunities to win.

"It was our turnovers in the first half. Sometimes when you play a team that doesn't have a great record, you try to knock them out in the first round. Then you have to play catch-up."

Quinn gave the Pistons credit for a strong defensive effort.

"They turned it up a notch and we weren't able to respond," he said. "We put ourselves in a position where if we made a run down the stretch we could win the game."

Maxiell also had 15 points while Billups and Rasheed Wallace added 13 apiece for Detroit, which limited Miami to 24 points in the second half.

Blake Ahearn, who signed a 10-day contract with the Heat on March 21 and had scored only two points in his three previous games, scored 13 in the second quarter to help Miami take a 45-43 halftime lead. Ahearn led the Heat with 15 points.

The Heat led, 43-35, with 3:07 to play in the first half, but Detroit finished the half with an 8-2 run to trim the deficit to two points.

Heat coach Pat Riley praised the play of his rookie-laden team.

"They're all playing hard," Riley said. "They have their moments up and down. It's hard to evaluate them all out on the court at the same time unless you put them out there with your better players. There are a couple of things Blake did through the course of the game that I liked. Stephane (Lasme) and Joel (Anthony) are working at it.

"They're playing a lot. I don't think they're afraid of the competition. They probably didn't expect for this to happen like it has happened. We just didn't have enough firepower in the second half. We kept defending hard but we couldn't make a basket."

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