Hassan Whiteside talked before Tuesday’s game about how aggravating his right hand is, the one which needed 13 stitches between his middle and ring finger.
The hand needs to be wrapped and re-wrapped, needs heavy padding because opposing players swat and pound at it knowing it’s going to bring some pain.
On Tuesday night, Whiteside dropped some pain on the Pistons.
Using his left hand, the one without the padding and bandages, Whiteside tipped in a rebound off a shot from teammate Goran Dragic as the clock collapsed.
The shot went in as clean as he tries to keep his stitches, the buzzer-beater lifting the Heat to a 97-96 victory over a desperate Detroit team trying to steal Miami’s playoff thunder.
Instead, the Heat took a 2 1/2-game lead on a Detroit team which has now dropped eight of its past nine.
“We’re built like that,” Whiteside said. “We’re mentally tough ... We’ve been in so many close battles like this.”
Miami goes into Wednesday’s game against a potentially tanking Knicks team with wins in 25 of its past 33 following an 11-30 start.
The Heat would not be here without Whiteside and Dragic.
“I’m filled with emotions,” Dragic said when asked about the maturation of Whiteside, a player who signed a four-year deal with the Heat worth over $98 million this offseason as the Heat made locking him up a priority.
“He is the kind of player who makes a difference in every game. He’s present on defense and on offense. He makes my job so easier if he’s setting good screens and most of the time when you miss the shot, he can get the second chance points or get the rebound.”
Tuesday, Dragic — playing with something on his left foot which forced equipment crew to cut a hole in the side of his shoes — bounced back from some struggles without Dion Waiters as he scored a team-high 28 points.
Yet it was Whiteside who will be remembered for Tuesday night’s win.
Although Whiteside came a board short of getting a 16th consecutive double-double, he got the rebound which counted and did everything he could to put it into the hoop for a win his team really, really needed.
“He really cares about the guys in the locker room and that’s one of the most powerful things I have seen as a coach,” Spoelstra said.
“What has been so humbling and so powerful to see is Hassan, for the first time in his career, playing more for the guys next to him than he is for himself. That’s what you have seen these last three games.
“I thought it was poetic justice the way he tipped it in with his left hand when [in the past] he probably would have been sitting out because of that. He got hit in the hand probably four or five times tonight. You could see him grimacing, but he was giving us whatever he could.
“He played it to the last possession.”