It all had the feeling of a formal announcement.
The players wore black-tie attire and posed like models on the video board for player introductions. During the game, they wore new black-and-white uniforms inspired by tuxedos. This symbolic night of alternate uniforms had been planned for a while — it was the season’s halfway point, after all — but there was something else special about it as well. This was the official welcoming party for new starting center Hassan Whiteside to his new town. It all felt so cosmic, so perfect, so inspiring.
And then Whiteside rolled his ankle in the second quarter.
Whiteside’s injury, just the latest setback for a Heat team undone by injuries throughout the first half of the season, was the gut punch to a 94-86 loss by the Heat on Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even more disappointing, Whiteside was a perfect 5 of 5 from the field before the injury, and the Heat’s defense was getting the best of potent Oklahoma City.
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When it was over, and with Whiteside in the training room for the entire second half, those buttoned up black-and-white uniforms made the place feel a little like a memorial.
Dwyane Wade led the Heat (18-23) with 18 points and Chris Bosh had 16 points, going 5 of 12 from the field. It wasn’t enough to overcome an injured third option and 21 turnovers. The Thunder scored 22 points off of those giveaways.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant scored 19 points each and Nick Collison had 16 points of the bench. After scoring 127 points in each of its last two games, Oklahoma City (21-20) won despite shooting 23.1 percent (6 of 26) from three-point range.
“The box score pretty much sums it up. You just look at the column of empty possessions and that just kills you against a team like this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Most of those possessions led to easy scores, or worse, pick-sixes. To leave a really competitive defensive game like that on the table is disappointing for all of us. If you say after the game that Durant plays 40 minutes and scores 19, and Westbrook 19, you feel like you have a chance.”
Durant is averaging 25 points per game this season; Westbrook 24.9.
On his turnover-prone offense, Spoelstra said he was forced to “slim down” the Heat’s offensive packages to limit the number of steals by Oklahoma City. After taking a quick 6-0 lead to beginning the game, there was a stretch where the Heat’s guards had trouble simply dribbling and linking together passes without committing turnovers. Despite the obvious offensive problems, the Heat led 27-24 after the first quarter thanks to that blackout hole of offense created by Whiteside around the rim that dramatically has changed the Heat’s defense, and overall outlook, in the last two weeks.
After slowing down the Thunder’s fast break, the Heat held Oklahoma City to 41.7 percent shooting in the first quarter with power forward Serge Ibaka going 1 of 5 from the field. Offensively, Whiteside went 5 of 5 from the field in the first quarter.
A three-pointer by Danny Granger gave the Heat a 40-34 lead when Whiteside checked back into the game with 6:19 remaining in the first half.
Then came the injury.
Whiteside sprained his ankle after blocking a shot by Thunder center Kendrick Perkins with 4:27 left in the second quarter. The Heat called a full timeout following a three-pointer by Ibaka to substitute Whiteside out of the game and Whiteside went straight to the locker room. He never returned to the bench and afterwards Spoelstra said Whiteside would not be traveling with the team on Tuesday night to Charlotte. The Heat plays the Hornets at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It’s disappointing,” Whiteside said. “There’s nothing you can really do about it. That’s basketball.”
Spoelstra said Whiteside’s ankle injury did not rate as a Grade 3 sprain. Still, the 25-year-old center could miss significant time. In addition to Whiteside’s injury, Wade returned to action on Tuesday for the first time in more than two games after tweaking a leg muscle in Los Angeles. Making matters worse, Luol Deng played with flu-like symptoms against the Thunder. He had eight points in less than 29 minutes.
In other words, this game at the season’s midway point pretty much summed up the first half of the season: injuries, illnesses and just another loss at home. The Heat is now 7-13 at home, including 1-6 against teams in the Western Conference.
“It is what it is,” Bosh said. “There’s no philosophical or insightful thing you can say about it. Guys are out, guys are sick and it is what it is. We’re going to get on this plane and go to Charlotte, and we still have a chance to win a basketball game.”