This loss will sting throughout the summer if the Heat ends up missing the playoffs.
Leading by double digits late in the game, the Heat collapsed in the final minutes and lost to the Detroit Pistons 99-98 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The stunning defeat guaranteed the Heat’s first losing season since 2007-08. Locked in a race for the playoffs, the Heat (34-42) has lost six of its past eight games, including three in a row.
The Pistons (30-47), still mathematically alive in the Eastern Conference with the win, outscored the Heat 10-2 in the final two minutes of the game. It was a demoralizing defensive meltdown for the Heat, especially considering ailing star Dwyane Wade played despite a badly hurting left knee.
Coupled with a comeback victory by the Boston Celtics, the Heat is now ninth in the standings with a key game against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
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“It was a terrible loss,” said Wade, who finished with 24 points but went scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously we have a game to play, but it’s going to be tough to get over this. This is a terrible loss, and there’s no way we should lose this game. We’ll figure out when we get there.”
The Heat led by 15 points with 7:06 left in the game. That’s when Pistons guard Reggie Jackson took over the game, and the Heat couldn’t stop him. Jackson scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. His three-pointer cut the Heat’s lead to six points with 1:57 left and a clutch three-pointer by the Pistons’ other guard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, pulled Detroit within a point with 1:09 left.
His team ahead 98-97, Wade had two chances in the final minute but couldn’t convert.
He missed badly with 10 seconds left and knew it, crashing the boards during his shot’s arc. But Wade couldn’t track down the loose ball as it bounded off the backboard and Jackson, the Pistons’ athletic new guard picked up the miss in transition and finished with a layup to put his team ahead 99-98. Wade then missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
As if the loss wasn’t bad enough for the Heat, center Hassan Whiteside might miss Sunday’s game against the Pacers after reinjuring his right hand on the final play of the game. Whiteside’s stitches between his middle and ring fingers opened up while attempting to block Jackson’s game-winning layup.
Wade played the role of animated, veteran leader in the fourth quarter, screaming at his teammates to “get back” on defense. It didn’t help. His team was outscored 27-17 in the final period.
Jackson led the Pistons with 29 points and 11 assists, and big Andre Drummond had 11 points and 17 rebounds. Caldwell-Pope finished with 19 points. Heat guard Goran Dragic had 21 points and seven assists in the loss, but the Heat shot just 5 of 20 from three-point range. The Pistons were 12 of 26 from long distance.
A look-away lob pass by Mario Chalmers freed James Ennis for a wide-open alley-oop with 9:20 left in the game to give the Heat an 89-77 lead.
At that point, it appeared like the Heat would walk away with an easy victory.
The game had all the physical overtones of a playoff game with Pistons center Drummond trying his best to agitate Whiteside, and the teams combining for 41 personal fouls and 49 foul shots. During one sequence, Drummond hammered Whiteside from behind during a battle for a rebound. Officials reviewed the play, but chose not to upgrade the common foul to a Flagrant-1. Minutes later, Drummond shoved Whiteside to the ground again.
The Heat led 81-72 after three quarters. With Wade scoring eight points in the third period, including an impressive baseline dunk, the Heat outscored Detroit 26-22 in the quarter. The Heat shot 55.2 percent from the field before the fourth quarter despite going 5 of 15 from three-point range.
The Heat trailed 29-24 after the first quarter after falling behind by 11 points early in the game. The Pistons started the game 7 of 7 from the field, but cooled down when the Heat’s first wave of reserves checked into the game. Shooting guard Mario Chalmers gave the Heat a boost of energy off the bench, and a Wade put the Heat ahead 32-31 with 9:41 left in the first half with a turnaround midrange jumper.
The Heat outscored the Pistons 31-9 during a nine-minute stretch between the first and second quarters.
▪ The injury bug continued in Detroit with Heat backup center Chris Andersen injuring his foot in the first half. He remained in the locker room after halftime and is questionable for Sunday’s game.
The Heat dropped to 9th in the East and is sitting outside the playoff field with six games remaining this year: