With just over one minute left in the third quarter, Chicago’s Doug McDermott grabbed the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside and took him to the ground. Officials called a flagrant-one foul on McDermott, and in addition to two free throws and another possession, the foul gave Whiteside an opportunity to show that he could stay composed in key moments.
“I got sacked for a loss of five,” Whiteside said of the foul. “It was a good tackle…I wasn’t mad or nothing…I was going to dunk it if he didn’t get me.”
Whiteside made the two free throws. Then he made a layup on the ensuing extra possession. After he was forced to sit for two-and-a-half minutes in the fourth quarter due to foul trouble, Whiteside made sure the Heat defeated the Bulls, igniting a 10-2 Miami run with his patented combination of ferocity in the defensive paint and tenacity on the offensive glass.
“I couldn’t sneeze on anybody tonight without it being a foul,” Whiteside said after the game. “I could be a little more aggressive on rebounding in the last five minutes…we had to crank it up in the fourth quarter and really get on a run.”
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After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly praised Whiteside’s composure.
“Those things absolutely matter in the playoffs,” Spoelstra said. “How quickly can he (Whiteside) get to the next possession? He’s going to be met with physicality…(he has) to be able to bring that force and be able to maintain (his) mental stability as well.”
Whiteside didn’t let anything obstruct his mental stability in the second half: not McDermott’s flagrant foul, not his four fouls. With 12 points and 10 rebounds, he recorded a double-double in the second half alone.
“I just got a better understanding that guys…they see me as a threat,” Whiteside said. “A lot of teams…they don’t like me really dunking at all…I’m getting used to it.”
While Whiteside needs to get used to more contact around the rim, Spoelstra says other teams must get used to Whiteside, especially on the defensive end.
“His gift…is his ability to protect the rim,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “We’re pushing him to try to get to another level…I want to see him make plays and use his gifts.”
Before the second-half shenanigans, Whiteside had trouble finding his rhythm in the first half.
The big man scored only four points and collected only two rebounds in just over 13 first-half minutes, and after the game he said his right thigh was bothering him at the outset of the game.
“It was a little tight,” Whiteside said of his thigh, which caused him to miss Wednesday’s practice. “I felt a little pain in it…as it got warmed up, it felt better.”
Udonis Haslem replaced Whiteside in the second quarter for the second game in a row, but the young seven-footer said the extra rest was just that.
“(Coach Spoelstra)’s getting me a quicker blow,” Whiteside said of the second-quarter substitution. “He used to play me two 15-minute stretches…now it’s just six minutes and then a quick two minute break and then seven more minutes.”
Despite the thigh tightness, Whiteside played just over 27 minutes Thursday night, two minutes shy of his season average of 29.
His next challenge is to come out Friday in Orlando re-energized and re-focused, maintaining that focus no matter what stands in his way, be it his thigh, foul trouble, or even another “tackle.”