There was a 28-second stretch around the seven-minute mark in the third quarter Tuesday night when Hassan Whiteside blocked Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kevin Garnett.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, though, kept coming.
Despite Whiteside’s best efforts to control the paint — an NBA-season-high 10 blocks and his second career triple-double — Minnesota scored 41 fourth-quarter points and snapped the Miami Heat’s three-game winning streak 103-91 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Timberwolves got 24 points from last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, capitalized on Miami’s season-high 22 turnovers, and survived another rough shooting night (37.1 percent) against Miami, not to mention 22 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks from Whiteside.
“Just a bad game,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who along with Chris Bosh produced only 10 points each in nearly 32 minutes of play.
Said Bosh: “It was a stinker. I think our focus was down.”
The Heat was playing with great focus on the defensive end and tied the score at 82 with 4:51 to play when Bosh faked a three-point shot and drove in for a finger-roll layup. But it was all Minnesota after that.
After Wiggins hit a driving jumper in the paint over Whiteside and Luol Deng, the T’Wolves began intentionally fouling Whiteside to stall Miami’s offense. The plan worked. Whiteside, who finished 2 of 9 from the foul line, made only one of his final four free-throw attempts before coach Erik Spoelstra pulled him.
“We put him at the line because it takes the ball out of everyone else’s hands,” T’Wolves coach Sam Mitchell said of the Hack-a-Hassan strategy.
The Heat’s bench, which had played well during most of the previous nine games, provided just 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting (Minnesota’s bench scored 54). Rookie Justise Winslow led the way with eight points and a career-high 11 rebounds, but it was hardly enough.
Minnesota, which had started the season ranked among the league leaders in holding opponents’ field-goal percentage down, came in having given up an average of 112 points on 51.5 percent shooting over its previous five games. The Heat, though, shot just 45.6 percent and struggled from three-point range (5 of 24).
Whiteside, though, was again a dominating defensive presence in the paint. Midway through the first quarter he blocked shots by Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica within seconds of each other on the same possession. He then celebrated by playing up to the home crowd.
Whiteside’s 46 blocks through 10 games are the most in franchise history. Alonzo Mourning had 39 blocks through 10 games to start the 1995-96 season.
“Multiple efforts all over the place, all over the court,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. The blocks he had were top-of-the-box — very few guys can make many of those plays. His extra efforts, extra jumps. I thought his screening in this game was probably one of his better screening games offensively. That was a tremendous effort on his part.”
Goran Dragic, playing his first game since his wife, 2-year old son and 3-month older daughter arrived Sunday from Slovenia, looked like a different player in the first half Tuesday night than he did for much of the first nine games.
He attacked the rim and had a season-high seven assists by halftime, including five in the first quarter. Dragic had not had that many assists in a game since he posted six in each of the Heat’s first three games. He also was finding Whiteside for easy baskets, feeding on him three assists. Dragic had five total assists to Whiteside in first nine games.
Dragic finished with 16 points and a season-high nine assists.
“I feel like we let this game get away,” he said.
Gerald Green, in his first game since Nov. 1, struggled. Green, who missed the previous six games after a bizarre incident at his Miami condo led to him being handcuffed and taken to a hospital, came off the bench with 1:41 left in the opening quarter — after Winslow and Tyler Johnson had already entered. Green missed his first three shots, including a pair of three-point attempts.
He finished with two points on 1-of-5 shooting in 12 minutes.
“I felt I could have been a little bit better today,” Green said. “But just glad to be back out there after the delay. But I’m not really worried about myself. I’m just worried about getting jelled with those guys like I was before.”