MIAMI — With the outcome decided, Dwyane Wade strutted toward a swarm of teammates with his right fist clenched and a victorious smile lighting his sweat-drenched face.
The night belonged to him and the Miami Heat.
With one more win, so will the Eastern Conference crown.
Wade scored 12 of his 31 points in the final quarter Monday night, leading a late charge that carried the Heat to an 89-78 win over the Detroit Pistons and a 3-1 lead in the series. Miami is on the cusp of its first trip to the NBA Finals.
"I'm just a kid. There's a kid inside of me who loves to play the game of basketball and is getting the opportunity to on the highest level," Wade said. "And I'm just trying to do my best job at it. ... Like I said, I'm just a kid in a candy store right now, having fun on one of the best teams in the NBA."
A year ago, two chances at ending Detroit's reign atop the East weren't enough for Miami, as the Pistons rallied from 3-2 down to win in seven games. Now, the Heat get three cracks at breaking through, starting Wednesday in suburban Detroit — and this time, they have a healthy Wade and Shaquille O'Neal to carry them.
"We don't want to get too high and mighty," O'Neal said. "Job's not done yet."
O'Neal had 21 points — albeit with a 5-for-15 night at the foul line — and nine rebounds, while Udonis Haslem added 16 points for the Heat.
Tayshaun Prince had 15 points and Chauncey Billups added 14 for the Pistons, who'll host Game 5 on Wednesday night.
"We've got a lot of fight in us," Billups said. "We have been down 3-1 before — not against a team as good as the Heat, though. And they're playing great, man. You've got to give it to them. They are. They're playing great ball. Their great players are playing phenomenal and other guys are chipping in pretty well."
Teams taking 3-1 leads in the penultimate round — either the conference finals or division finals, as they were once known — have prevailed 40 times in 43 previous opportunities, and each of the last 16 teams with a 3-1 cushion has gone on to reach the NBA Finals.
The Pistons — who've rallied from 2-1 or 3-2 series deficits five times in the last four postseasons — dug deep in Game 4, trailing by 14 points late in the first half as a white-towel-waving Miami crowd worked itself into a frenzy.
The Pistons answered with a 29-11 run over a 7-minute stretch — capped by Rasheed Wallace's three-pointer with 5:04 left in the third quarter — for a 57-53 lead. But Detroit managed only three more points in the quarter, and Wade hit a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left to put Miami up 62-60 entering the fourth.
|Miami vs. Detroit|
|Miami leads best-of-7 series 3-1|
||Miami 91, Detroit 86|
||Detroit 92, Miami 88|
||Miami 98, Detroit 83|
||Miami 89, Detroit 78|
||5 p.m., ESPN|
||5 p.m., ESPN|
||5 p.m., Ch. 4|