The Miami Heat played the kind of suffocating defense it needed Monday night to give itself a chance against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
In the end, not having Dion Waiters around – and not having its $98 million center fully engaged – proved too much to overcome.
For the first time this season, Hassan Whiteside found himself sitting alone at the end of the bench after coach Erik Spoelstra pulled him from the game with 10:47 to play in the third quarter. Whiteside had only three points (on 1-of-9 shooting) and five rebounds in 16 minutes and 22 seconds worth of action as the Heat fell 97-80 at Oracle Arena.
It’s the fewest points Whiteside has scored – and the first time he hasn’t scored in double digits – since Feb. 24 (a streak of 28 games) when he had two points (on 1-of-9 shooting) in a win in Atlanta, but was praised by Spoelstra for his defense and for finishing plus-19 in the game.
There was no praising of Whiteside’s effort Monday.
“It’s a coach's decision,” said Spoelstra, who yanked Whiteside after he was called for an offensive foul on one end and then failed to get back on defense right after because he was arguing the call and it allowed Warriors center Zaza Pachulia to score on a layup.
“That’s what it really came down to,” Spoelstra continued. “It’s nothing bigger, more than that. This is one game. He understands how important he is to our ballclub, to play at high level, high energy level. And so we’ll move on to Phoenix and look to have a much better game, much more committed game in all facets.”
After getting pulled out of the game, Whiteside, 28, sat on the bench the rest of the game with a look of disinterest as the Heat (4-6) fell behind 60-40 midway through the third quarter. Miami then went on a 7-0 run behind James Johnson before the Warriors called time out. While his teammates were all celebrating and discussing the next play in a team circle on the bench, Whiteside sat alone.
“Um, I made a mistake, man, Zaza got behind me,” Whiteside responded when asked why Spoelstra took him out of the game. “I was really in here at halftime contemplating like, ‘Let’s get ‘em this half. I’m going to really come out and dominate the second half.”
But Whiteside never dominated. Rookie Bam Adebayo replaced him and finished with three points, six rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes.
“I guess he thought it was better if I didn’t come back in,” Whiteside explained. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
The Warriors (8-3) eventually extended the lead to as many as 23 points behind MVP candidate Kevin Durant, who who had 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the win.
The Heat (4-6) played suffocating defense from the start. Golden State was 7 of 24 shooting in the opening quarter and by halftime was 4-of-16 from the three-point line.
But Miami’s offense never really got going with Whiteside struggling to score in the paint and the Heat connecting on only 8-of-26 from three-point range.
Miami shot only 36 percent in the game and turned it over 23 times, which led to 28 Warriors points.
James Johnson led Miami with 21 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block in 32 minutes. Dragic had 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.
After Goran Dragic scored on a layup to tie the score at 34 with 3:57 to play in the second quarter, Golden State closed the half on a 16-3 run. Durant scored half of those points.
The Warriors, who came in averaging a league-best 120.7 points per game, shot 36.8 percent, it’s lowest total of the season.