When it comes to perfect attendance, there aren’t many Miami Heat players who can proclaim themselves ironmen.
Center Hassan Whiteside and rookie Rodney McGruder remain the only two players on the roster who have been healthy and available for all 27 of the team’s regular season games thus far. Although he doesn’t have perfect attendance (and he missed his second game of the season Friday night because of illness), Tyler Johnson has quietly become the league’s fourth quarter iron man.
Despite missing Friday’s game, the third-year guard leads the NBA in fourth quarter minutes (11.1) and has played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter in eight consecutive games and 17 of his 25 games overall. It’s a testament not only to Johnson’s conditioning and skills, coach Erik Spoelstra said, but the fact he’s got the confidence to step up and play big in crucial moments.
“Some of [those games he played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter] were because we were only playing with seven guys. So some of them, we needed him to play all those fourth quarter minutes,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra explained. “But I've said this before about Tyler – he’s fearless and he’s a great competitor.
“He's not afraid to succeed or fail in those moments. That's a great quality about him particularly for a young player. You need your most competitive two-way players down the stretch, and he's one of those guys.”
Johnson, who is averaging 13 points per game this season, the second-highest average in the NBA for a player with no starts (only the Lakers' Lou Williams 19.2 average ranks higher) is shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three-point range in the fourth quarter. He's also averaging 4.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in the final period of regulation.
Only point guard Goran Dragic, who leads the Heat in fourth quarter scoring at 5.8 points per game (22nd in the league), is averaging more points in the final period.
“Energy,” Whiteside said of what Johnson brings in the final quarter. “You've seen how he was blocking shots last game. There are not many guards that can do that. He's got a 42-inch vertical. He plays hard, man. He plays bigger than what he is. It's great to have that – a guy with that kind of motor.”
Whiteside tried to back off from his critical statement Thursday regarding Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who was an All-NBA First Team selection last season.
“Definitely misconstrued,” Whiteside said of his comments. “First off, I would never diss another big fella. I'm all for the big guys in the game. But I was just saying on the offensive end, our roles [are] different. Obviously he's a top-three rebounder and one of the best defensive players in the league. I didn't think I had to explain that, but I see I do.
“I'm also good friends with him. He's a good guy, man. I wasn't saying he just can do this or just can do that. I was just saying our offensive roles [were different]. That's all I was saying.”
When he was asked before Friday’s game about Whiteside’s comments regarding his limited offensive game, Jordan told Clippers reporters: “Made First Team All NBA and Defense doing that.”
Whiteside said he didn’t reach out to Jordan prior to Friday’s game and didn’t think he needed to. He said the two of them hung out at a Player’s Tribune party in Los Angeles this summer.
“I don't think he thinks I meant anything by it,” Whiteside said. “If he does, I'll just say I meant it in this fashion.”
Spoelstra called the passing of TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager on Thursday following a long battle with a rare form of leukemia “extremely sad.”
“He's such a pillar of greatness and character in our profession,” Spoelstra said. “My memories of Craig were even before I was a head coach. I got to know him when I was scouting. I would see him in hotels, restaurants on the road. And he had a great way of just making you feel a part of the NBA community.
“Even before I felt that way or he was even viewed that way, he was such an engaging person that really would connect with anybody. It was fascinating and so enjoyable to watch him in his element. Then from his perspective of sideline reporting, I thought he brought a great deal of joy and fun. I thought it was great lesson to me as a head coach that you could be serious, be professional, but most importantly not take yourself so seriously. I thought it was a great quality. My heart goes out to his family.”