MIAMI — James Jones insists he got a hand on the basketball. The Detroit Pistons said he got a hand on Austin Daye instead.
Either way, the Miami Heat exalted in the outcome.
Eddie House hit two deciding free throws with 6.5 seconds left, LeBron James led all scorers with 39 points and Daye missed a contested dunk off a lob on the final play as the Heat rallied late to beat the Pistons 88-87 on Friday night.
“Everybody depends on everybody,” House said. “We believe in each other. If you don’t have a play, you try to make a play for somebody else, make it easier for your teammate. At the end, that’s what happened.”
James finished with nine assists and eight rebounds for the Heat, who played without Chris Bosh (ankle) and Dwyane Wade (wrist) and trailed by 10 late in the third quarter. House scored 15 points and Mike Miller added 12 for Miami, which had lost five of its last six games but remained tied with Chicago (32-14) for second in the Eastern Conference.
The win, combined with Boston’s loss in Phoenix, drew Miami within three games of the Celtics in the East race.
Wade was a very late scratch, his status not announced until about 15 minutes before tip-off. He will have an MRI exam on his wrist Saturday.
“No one feels sorry for us. … No matter who’s in uniform, guys have to step up,” James said.
Ben Gordon scored 21 points for Detroit, which trailed for less than 9 minutes in the game. Daye’s dunk attempt was set up by Tayshaun Prince‘s lob on an inbounds play, but replays indicated the slam try simply skipped off the rim.
“He threw me off to get separation and so I was just recovering,” Jones said. “I got a piece of the ball. They said I didn’t get a piece of the ball. Either way, we found a way to win this game tonight.”
Daye said he didn’t expect to get a call there.
“This is my second year, right?” he mused afterward.
Daye had 19 points and nine rebounds, Tracy McGrady finished with 14 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Chris Wilcox had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons.
“We’re better than our record,” said Pistons coach John Kuester, whose team fell to 17-30, 5-20 on the road. “What we have to do is continue to play the rest of the season this way and hopefully good things will happen.”
The Pistons were without starting guard Rodney Stuckey, who sat out with a bruised right shoulder. He got hurt in a collision with Denver’s Carmelo Anthony on Wednesday night. Richard Hamilton was out with the flu, and Ben Wallace was not with the team to tend to a family matter.
Wade sat out with a sprained right wrist, the second time a malady kept him sidelined in the past week. He missed Miami’s game against Toronto with a migraine headache last Saturday. Bosh remained sidelined with a sprained left ankle.
And in the second quarter, there was fear James would join them on the bench.
In a span of just seconds, James twisted his left ankle, lost the ball and took a knee in the forehead from teammate Joel Anthony. James remained down for a few seconds, kicking his feet on the court and wriggling in pain. The Heat called a 20-second timeout, and James remained in the game.
“Thank God that he wears knee pads during the game, because it could have been really ugly,” James said, referring to Anthony. “Definitely didn’t feel good when it happened.”
House’s game-winning points came after he tried a pullup against Gordon, who hit him on the shot attempt. House made both free throws for a one-point lead, and Detroit called time to set up a final play.
Miami had a foul to give, and James used it with 2.7 seconds left, forcing Detroit to draw up another last-ditch try. They went to Daye, and Jones saved the Heat.
“Definitely his contest altered the shot,” James said.
It was just the second time in 10 tries that Miami won a game decided by fewer than five points this season.
Miami missed 17 of its first 20 attempts from 3-point range, then got one from House with 4:20 remaining to tie the game at 80. And when James connected – the ball barely getting over the rim – from straightaway with 3:01 remaining, Miami took its first lead since the opening quarter, 83-82.
Daye was left alone with 1:07 remaining, hitting a 3-pointer from near the Heat bench to put Detroit up 87-86. It stayed that way until House closed the scoring.
Miami missed 13 of 14 shots from 3-point range in the first half, had eight turnovers to Detroit’s two, and relied almost entirely on James for all its offense. James shot 10 for 16 in the half, his 23 points representing his best first two quarters of the season.
The rest of the Heat in the first half? They shot 6 for 26, good for 16 points, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra lauded the effort.
“These are very good basketball games for your ballclub,” Spoelstra said.
McGrady missed all eight of his shots in the opening half, then found his rhythm in the third quarter with nine points – including a layup with 2:52 left in the period that gave Detroit what was its biggest lead, 66-56.
Miami made a dent by the time the third quarter ended, House banking one in with 12 seconds left to get Miami within 68-64 entering the fourth.
And House came up even bigger late in the fourth, dancing to the Heat bench after the second free throw went down.
“It was purely guts tonight,” Jones said.
One of the greatest backcourts in NBA history – Florida International coach Isiah Thomas and Detroit president Joe Dumars – sat together for the game. … McGrady reached double-digits in assists for the second time this month. He had 11 against Utah on Jan. 3.