Unlike most of the NBA, DeMarcus Cousins said he wasn’t surprised to see Hassan Whiteside make his rise from the D-League to earning himself a $98 million contract this past summer with the Miami Heat.
“At one point I thought Hassan was a better player than me,” said Cousins, who was Sacramento’s first round pick in 2010, the same season the Kings drafted Whiteside with its second round pick, 33rd overall.
“I mean, I remember days where it would just be me and him working out 1-on-1 and he would kill me. His talent was always there. Everything he’s doing now, I thought he was capable of doing then. I’m happy for him, happy for the situation he’s in now. He’s proved a lot of people wrong.”
Tuesday night’s main attraction at AmericanAirlines Arena was supposed be the head-to-head battle between Cousins and Whiteside. Instead, it turned out to be a night Whiteside couldn’t stay on the court because of foul trouble and Miami’s guards provided a huge lift, leading the Heat to a 108-96 overtime victory.
Goran Dragic led the charge with 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. Dragic hit a three-pointer to score the first points of overtime for Miami and then another to score the last points of overtime.
Dion Waiters, who entered Tuesday’s game shooting only 31.8 percent from the field and with as many turnovers (10) as he had assists, had 20 points, four rebounds and four assists in a team-leading 43 minutes. He also hit the game-tying shot, a 20-foot step-back jumper with 34.5 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
And Tyler Johnson scored seven of the Heat’s 17 points in overtime, hitting a runner with 2:55 left and then a three on the Heat’s next possession to stretch what was a two-point lead to seven. Then, Johnson, who finished with 22 points in 32 minutes off the bench, drew a flagrant foul on Arron Afflalo, getting smacked in the jaw before going to the other end of the court to hit the game-clinching free throws.
All of it added up to an important for the Heat, who were still smarting over how they blew a 19-point second half lead to Charlotte on Friday and then missing out on opportunity to beat the unbeaten San Antonio Spurs, who were playing on the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday.
“I think it was good for us to go through another emotional game in the second half,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who celebrated his 46th birthday with his 401st career victory. “Emotions are running high — a lot of frustration, a lot of elation, a lot of everything in between. But it was good to see us just find a way to grind it through all that.
“For one night, that’s a positive step forward from the last two games, to be able to find a way to finish it out and find some stability going down the stretch.”
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Kings (2-3) got 30 points from Cousins, 30 from Rudy Gay and another 18 from Afflalo, but shot 38.2 percent and couldn’t put the Heat (2-2) away after overcoming a 12-point second half deficit.
“Our turnovers were devastating for us and they shot better than we did,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “At the end, it kind of came down to that.”
The Heat made seven of its first 12 three-point shots and led 54-50 at the half thanks in large part to its starting backcourt, which combined for 29 points and nine assists.
But in the second half, after the Heat stretched its lead to 12 on a Whiteside dunk, a familiar problem arose when he picked up his fourth foul with 8:06 to play in the third quarter. Much like Friday’s loss to the Hornets, Miami’s lead quickly began to dissipate.
Whiteside, who matched a career-high with 27 points in Sunday’s loss to the Spurs, ended the night with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes.
Veteran Udonis Haslem saw his first action of the season, filling in admirably for Whiteside with four rebounds in 16 minutes. Haslem got physical with Cousins in the paint and frustrated him.
Cousins, a two-time All-Star and gold medal winner this past summer with Team USA in Brazil, fouled out with 30.6 seconds left in regulation after he drove toward the basket against Whiteside and was called for a controversial charge. Cousins picked up all six of his fouls in the fourth quarter.
“He had my arm,” said Whiteside, who played grief-stricken following the death of his uncle Monday night. “That’s why I really couldn’t block a lot of his shots. He had my elbow. He was holding it. I don’t really know. He did it a couple times. I’m like Dude, I can’t move while somebody is holding your arm running past you. They finally called it.”
Once Cousins was out, the Heat took over and dominated down the stretch.
“Tyler really stepped up and made some big shots and made a couple big plays where it was something out of nothing,” Spoelstra said. “A lot of times that’s what you need going down the stretch the defense steps up and you just have to make plays. He found a couple open gaps and stepped up into a big three to really help us down the stretch.”