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 last 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 tomorrow in Game 5 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, and Udonis Haslem added 16 points for the Heat.
``We want to get to 12 wins and if they want it, and they want to get to the finals, it'd be a first for this franchise," Heat coach Pat Riley said. ``I think they're hungry and I think we're going to go get it. We have great respect for the Pistons, but I think our heart's into moving on."
Tayshaun Prince had 15 points and Chauncey Billups added 14 for the Pistons.
``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."
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 past 16 teams with a 3-1 cushion has gone on to reach the NBA Finals.
``Strange things happen," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.
Those oh-so-resilient Pistons -- who've rallied from 2-1 or 3-2 series deficits five times in the past 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 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the third quarter -- for a 57-53 lead. But Detroit managed only 3 more points in the quarter, and Wade made two free throws with 1.5 seconds left to put Miami up, 62-60, entering the fourth.
Detroit never led again, but afterward, its confidence still seemed unflappable.
``I'll take this five," Rasheed Wallace proclaimed, ``over any five in the world."