A night when the Heat initially looked listless, lost and a step slow turned dramatically and delightfully for Miami on Friday, with Hassan Whiteside’s block party fueling a furious Heat rally and spearheading one of its most exhilarating and galvanizing wins of the season.
With Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic sidelined, and the Heat having just 10 players available, Miami rallied from 18 down to beat Denver 98-95, giving the Heat its second win on a six-game road trip that ends Sunday in Oklahoma City.
Whiteside was at the epicenter, closing with his third career triple double (19 points, 17 rebounds, 11 blocks) and swatting away shot after shot as the Heat climbed out of a 62-46 halftime deficit.
“He was sensational,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s very clear to see when Hassan is absolutely locked in, not only from a focus standpoint but a multiple-effort standpoint, it absolutely changes the complexion of our defense.”
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Whiteside had nine points, six rebounds and five blocks in the third quarter, which ended with the Heat down two, then blocked two more shots in the fourth.
“I see a lot of NBA players getting triple doubles with assists. Ain’t nobody doing it with blocks,” Whiteside said. “I hope the fans enjoyed it. A lot of people, I don’t put numbers up they like, they say, ‘Hassan is lazy.’ I was going through a lot with [knee] tendinitis.”
Whiteside said he told Spoelstra before the game: “I’m back to the athletic Hassan.”
Several Heat players had a hand in this comeback, which marked the league-leading sixth time this season that Miami has rallied from 15 down in the second half to win.
Chris Bosh scored 10 points in the third quarter and 16 of his 24 in the second half, including a 15-foot turnaround jumper that put the Heat ahead for good with 56 seconds left.
Justise Winslow’s layup tied the game early in the fourth, and he put Miami ahead 85-82 with a three shortly after that.
And don’t forget Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih. After the Nuggets rallied to tie the game, Johnson (15 points) put the Heat ahead with a jumper with 5:32 left, then pushed the margin to four with a layup off a nifty pass from Udrih, who was very good (11 points, 11 assists, no turnovers).
The Nuggets tied the game at 95 on Darrell Arthur’s jumper at the 1:46 mark, but Bosh’s turnaround put the Heat back ahead with just under a minute left, and Denver’s Will Barton followed by missing a jump shot.
Bosh then missed a 19-foot jump shot with 18 seconds left, but Danilo Gallinari was off on a three-pointer with eight seconds remaining.
With the Heat up two, Bosh was fouled and missed the first free throw but made the second, leaving Miami ahead 98-95. Jameer Nelson then missed a 23-footer at the buzzer, and the Heat escaped.
“I think getting it under 10 in the first three or four minutes, that was very important; it was a goal of ours,” Bosh said. “We wanted to make sure we stayed solid, kept fighting and got ourselves back into the game.”
Miami’s defense stiffened considerably after being shredded early on.
The Nuggets opened 15 for 21 from the field and 5 for 5 on three-pointers. By that point, Denver led 44-29.
But after that point, Denver shot just 17 for 57 overall and 1 for 13 on threes, closing at 41 percent from the field.
“Miami is long and athletic; they can switch,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I credit Miami’s defense and attribute it to our lack of handling those runs. Whiteside was an animal tonight.”
With Wade sidelined by injuries to both shoulders and Dragic back home in Miami with a calf injury, Spoelstra started Udrih and Gerald Green in the backcourt.
Udrih played splendidly, but Green curiously took only five shots, making one and scoring just two points.
The Nuggets scored 62 points in the first half and caught the Heat flat-footed several times, forcing Miami to foul. Denver made 17 of 18 first-half free throws and 25 for 26 for the game.
After making several mindless turnovers in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers, the Heat appropriately ended the first half Friday with a five-second violation on an inbounds pass — after a timeout, no less.
A bit earlier, Spoelstra picked up his second technical foul of the season — and his second in two games — for complaining about a call.
I see a lot of NBA players getting triple doubles with assists. Ain’t nobody doing it with blocks. I hope the fans enjoyed it.
But everything changed in the second half.
Bosh began taking, and making, jumpers.
Udrih made Heat fans stop bemoaning the Mario Chalmers trade, at least for a night.
Winslow, who entered 15 for 68 on three-pointers, hit his biggest one of the season.
Luol Deng scored three baskets in the fourth quarter, and Malone said afterward, unprompted, that Deng “is a heck of a defender.”
Most significantly, Whiteside was a dominant presence on defense, and a key contributor on offense, finishing 8 for 13 from the field.
“Not that many guys can do that,” Wade said of Whiteside’s night.
“The difficult part of seeing stuff like that,” Bosh said, “is that you set the bar high, you expect that from him because we know what he is capable of. When he is locked in like he was tonight, they couldn’t get a shot off anywhere. They kept coming in to challenge him; I don’t know why. He was there every time.”
Beyond the numbers, Spoelstra said Whiteside did good work “covering Arthur when needed and guarding out on the perimeter and also in the paint. Not just on post-ups, but giving us a presence offensively with his screening, his duck-ins, his rolling to the basket. His rebounding was big as well against this type of team that is such a great offensive rebounding team.”
Spoelstra played nine of his 10 players available, bypassing only Udonis Haslem.
The Heat’s second half embodies “the identity we have to fully embrace,” Spoelstra said. “There’s not as much pressure on your offense when you’re getting multiple stops in a row and you don’t feel like you have to score. We are a defensive, physical, gritty team, but when we don’t play that way, we don’t really find ways to win.”
The win helps salvage a road trip that was on the verge of unraveling. Miami (23-17) improved to 2-3 on this Western swing and moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
After the Oklahoma City game, Miami returns home for less than 48 hours, making a pit stop to play host to Milwaukee before returning to the road for five games against Eastern Conference opponents. Forty games into the season, Miami still has played six more home games than road games.
▪ Wade said Bosh advised him not to play and he was non-committal about his availability for Sunday against the Thunder. Wade will receive treatment on his shoulders on Saturday.