So now we know: Postseason Hassan Whiteside is very much like regular-season Hassan Whiteside: highly productive, efficient, disruptive defensively and prone to dunking on people and then celebrating with a bicep flex.
In his NBA playoff debut, Whiteside was a force against Charlotte, with 21 points (on 9 of 11 shooting), 11 rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes.
“I tried to do everything perfect,” Whiteside said. “It’s a blessing for me to play in the playoffs against my hometown team.”
He set the tone early, scoring 10 points to help the Heat build a 28-15 lead in the first nine minutes. Then he added nine points, five rebounds and two blocks in the third, as Miami stretched a 17-point halftime lead to 23 after three.
“He was laser focused and locked in,” Dwyane Wade said. “I love when he’s communicating on the defensive end. He dominated the game like he should.”
Nevertheless, Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he would continue to start Cody Zeller and bring Al Jefferson off the bench.
“I wouldn’t see the point in changing our lineup right now,” Clifford said. “We have to be able to score with Al Jefferson in the post because Hassan Whiteside does struggle to guard him in the post.”
Whiteside, who was 3 for 5 on free throws, scored 12 of his 21 points with Zeller in the game, nine with Jefferson on the floor. Five of his baskets were dunks.
“I didn’t try to put any pressure on myself,” Whiteside said. “I just tried to play as hard as I could and hope for the best.”
In Game 1, Zeller had nine points, seven rebounds and was a minus-20 in 20 minutes. Jefferson had 13 points and five rebounds and was a minus-11 in 23 minutes.
“I feel like I handled [the Jefferson matchup] well,” Whiteside said. “He’s a really good post player.”
Clifford said there are two ways “to try to keep Whiteside’s shot-blocking at a minimum, which we haven’t been good at. One is obviously if you can post the ball and go directly at him. The other way is to move him around.”
Neither especially worked in Game 1.
What pleased Erik Spoelstra was Whiteside’s “approach to the details,” including on “screening, pick-and-roll coverage, protecting the rim… It was very good.”
Whiteside’s playoff christening wasn’t perfect, as his friend, Shaquille O’Neal, pointed out in TNT’s studio at halftime.
“I saw good Hassan; I saw bad Hassan,” O’Neal said. “He’s got to understand this is the time of year you make a name for yourself.”
O’Neal criticized Whiteside for slapping at the ball in one sequence, allowing Jefferson to drive around him.
“This was stupid Whiteside,” said O’Neal, who dined with Whiteside on Lincoln Road during the All-Star break. “He’s got to stop doing silly stuff.”
For the most part, though, this was a splendid initial playoff sojourn for Whiteside.
“I really felt at home,” Whiteside said. “My last name being Whiteside; I really love seeing a lot of white” with the Heat again using a White Hot postseason theme.