Hassan Whiteside had 16 family members who live in the Charlotte area attend Saturday’s Game 3 loss to the Hornets — among them was his great uncle Willie Grimes, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and cleared in 2012 after serving more than 24 years in prison.
“He’d been in prison since I was born so [Saturday] was the first time he saw me play in person,” Whiteside said Sunday after practice. “Uncle Woo said I played well, but he really doesn’t know a lot about basketball. He’s learning.”
Whiteside’s 13 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots were certainly one of the nicer stat lines for the Heat in a 96-80 Game 3 loss. But if the Heat is going to avoid coming home for Game 5 Wednesday tied at 2 in the series, Miami’s 7-foot center knows he and his teammates are going to have to regain control of his primary place of business — the paint.
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After being outscored 56-36 in the paint in Game 1, the Hornets, the third-best team in the league in the regular season at defending in the paint, have progressively turned the tide in their favor.
Charlotte outscored the Heat in the paint 48-46 in Game 2 and then dominated Miami 52-28 Saturday in Game 3. The 28 points in the paint on 14-of-37 shooting tied for the Heat’s second-worst performance in the paint all season. Miami averaged 46.4 points per game in the paint in the regular season, fourth-most in the league.
Whiteside, who was 17 of 19 from the field and averaged 19 points in Games 1 and 2, took only six shots from the field (he made three). On Sunday, he sat out practice with a bruised right thigh, but said afterward he felt confident he would play in Game 4.
“I know I’m a bigger part of their focus,” Whiteside said of the Hornets defense. “I feel like the first game it was more one-on-one coverages. Now, it’s a couple guys [defending me]. And they’ve gone bigger. They usually had two 7-footers out there.”
Hornets point guard Kemba Walker said Charlotte is trying its best to keep the ball out of Whiteside’s hands. “Especially on his pick and rolls,” Walker said. “We’re trying our best to meet him high [off screens].”
Said Whiteside: “There’s so many guys in the paint down there. They’re really trying to get into my legs because they don’t want to meet me in the sky. So they’re trying to meet me early.”
But the Heat’s paint struggles in Game 3 weren’t only the result of Whiteside not breaking free and having a dunkfest. Coach Erik Spoelstra pointed out the Heat shot 7 of 22 at the rim — the same percentage the team shot from three-point range in Game 3.
He said the pregame lineup changes Steve Clifford made by going big in Game 3 with 7-foot rookie Frank Kaminsky at power forward and moving 6-9, 237-pound forward Marvin Williams to small forward “planted the seed” for Charlotte to play more physical and aggressive in the paint.
“They didn’t necessarily beat us up on the glass, but more with their drives and aggressiveness, putting the ball on the floor and going at our matchups,” Spoelstra said. “It’s part of the give and take of the series.”
Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson said they were happy with the looks Miami got offensively. They just didn’t convert like they usually do.
Clifford was happy with the way his team deflected more passes in Game 3 (40) compared the first two games of the series and said that’s key in disrupting the Heat’s offense. Dragic said the Heat simply has to do a better job setting screens and reading the coverages off pick and rolls to avoid those deflections.
“A lot of it too is not letting them set their defense all night,” Wade said. “They’re going to put five in the paint. They’re going to make it tough for you to go down there.”
As a bad a night as it was shooting for Miami Saturday, Wade said he felt Whiteside played well and had the best performance of any Heat player in the team’s first road playoff game.
Whiteside said as much as he’s enjoyed being around his family he would prefer not to have to come back to Charlotte for Game 6.
“I’m probably going to need more than 16 tickets for [Game 4],” he said. “I told them I’m not planning on coming back to Charlotte. So this might be their last chance to see me.”
Monday: Heat at Hornets
What: Eastern Conference first round, Game 4.
When/where: 7 p.m.; Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
TV/radio: NBATV, SUN; WAXY 790, WRTO 98.3 FM (Spanish).
Series: Heat leads 2-1.
Scouting report: Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum (left foot sprain) was upgraded from out to questionable on Sunday for Game 4. Said Hornets coach Steve Clifford: “He’s been in here nonstop [receiving treatment]. The swelling is down a lot. He’s doing everything. He badly wants to play. I just don’t know it will be enough time [to be ready in time for Monday’s game].”