Hassan Whiteside has played so infrequently in the fourth quarter this season that he actually took joy Sunday when the Portland Trail Blazers tried to intentionally foul him during the period.
“It had been a while,” Whiteside said through a smile. “I was relaxed.”
Whiteside buried the free throws with 2:40 remaining and Blazers coach Terry Stotts opted not to go to the tactic again. In the end, that was probably the only disappointing part of the fourth quarter for Whiteside.
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The rest was pretty cool — because he got to play and be a big part of the Heat’s 116-109 comeback win over Portland. Of his 22 points and 11 rebounds, he recored 10 and six, respectively, in the final period.
When it comes to playing the fourth quarter on most nights, Miami’s starting center usually ends up on the bench as the Heat goes smaller to deal with quicker opposing lineups.
Whiteside has sat out the fourth quarter of six games this season. Only two Heat players entered Sunday’s game averaging fewer than his 4.8 minutes in the fourth quarter: Chris Andersen and Amar’e Stoudemire. Andersen and Stoudemire have only played in three games in each.
Whiteside called a “great feeling” just being able to contribute in the fourth quarter and that he didn’t realize how long he had been out there until he looked up and saw it on the monitor. He played a season-high 37 minutes 38 seconds.
So why did coach Erik Spoelstra decide to leave his big man in for meaningful minutes when he hadn’t through the Heat’s first 25 games?
Spoelstra didn’t want to make a big deal of it when pressed and said ultimately he goes with “whatever is best for the team” in the fourth quarter.
“Hassan was terrific in the second half defensively,” Spoelstra said. “That's why I played him the entire second half. He was making so many plays — a lot of them that you saw, the blocks, the rebounds. But a lot you probably wouldn't see — the pick and roll coverages against dynamic three-point shooters. He was really covering a lot of ground. Probably, arguably, as much ground as he’s covered in a game defensively was [Sunday].”
Whiteside said he was playing a little differently defensively Sunday than he had been earlier in the season — namely playing up and further away from the basket on Portland’s perimeter shooters. He’s also said he’s trusting his teammates more to protect the weakside of the basket.
“I had to step out,” Whiteside said. “And I’m fine with that. Just stay around the three-point line and my teammates had my back. It’s just something I’m going to have to deal with. It’s not like the old days where bigs can just stay in the paint and just block a ton of shots.
“Those guys can get hot real early. So, I just had to step up on the screens. I felt like last game I didn’t step out enough. This time I told them I could do it. I told them just let me know if I need to step out on the pick and roll. I can do that.”
Whiteside drew his second technical foul of the season at the end of the third quarter after he swatted a pair of shots back to back and then slammed the basketball in celebration once time expired.
“I just got too excited,” he said.
He was in good spirits after the game so he wasn’t be too upset about being hit with the $2,000 fine that comes with the technical.
“I just bought a MacBook,” he joked. “I just bought an Apple computer for bouncing a ball too hard. My bad. I know I messed up. [$2,000] — that’s how much an Apple computer costs.”