Before the game, before a still relatively obscure but infinitely cocksure 25-year-old basketball player stepped on the court in Chicago and made history, Hassan Whiteside tested his sprained ankle and knew it wasn’t completely healed.
There was lingering pain.
“I can’t jump as high, but I can still dunk on people,” Whiteside said.
And block shots — lots of shots.
In his first game back from a sprained right ankle, Whiteside came off the bench to set a franchise record Sunday at United Center with 12 blocks while also scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the Heat’s 96-84 victory.
“It’s a blessing,” Whiteside said. “Like I told my teammates, you wouldn’t believe how things work out in life. Three months ago, you can ask anybody in Charlotte at the downtown Y. I was just there at the downtown Y just chilling. Just working on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”
Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning held the Heat’s previous franchise record for blocks in a game with nine. Whiteside’s rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double came as a reserve, and despite first-half foul trouble. He played less than 25 minutes.
With Whiteside and Chris Andersen manning the Heat’s interior defense and forward Luol Deng locked onto Bulls’ breakout star Jimmy Butler, the Heat held Chicago to 35.6 percent shooting from the field.
The superior defensive effort allowed the Heat (20-24) to win in a blowout despite going 1 of 13 (7.7 percent) from three-point range.
Chicago native Dwyane Wade led the Heat in scoring with 26 points, going 10 of 18 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. The Heat led 74-62 after the third quarter and Wade closed out the game scoring 12 points in the final period.
Chris Bosh had 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Deng had 15 points and 10 rebounds playing for the first time in Chicago since being traded from the Bulls to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year.
“We did a good job of taking away their first option,” Deng said. “It kind of got them a little uncomfortable, made them take bad shots. Whiteside had a great game with 12 blocks. He contested a lot of shots.”
A starter before spraining his ankle last Tuesday in a home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Whiteside played just seven minutes in the first half, but had five blocks.
Andersen started the game at power forward for the Heat and played well. He had nine rebounds and four points in less than 21 minutes. Overall, the Heat outrebounded the Bulls 54-43, despite Bulls forward Pau Gasol grabbing 17 boards.
Gasol added 13 points and Bulls guard Aaron Brooks had 17 points off the bench. Derrick Rose had 19 points, going 7 of 17 from the field.
It was a layup attempt by Brooks with 9:48 left in the game that spurred Whiteside to the Heat’s single-game blocks record.
Brooks went inside on Whiteside to cut the Heat’s lead to nine points and, a minute later during a timeout, Wade challenged Whiteside to do a better job keeping the Bulls’ guards out of the paint.
Never mind that Whiteside already had eight blocks at that point in the game, the motivational ploy worked. Whiteside finished the fourth quarter with four blocks and three dunks after the pep talk by the Heat’s co-captain.
“I told him it was his paint and to protect and to block everything that comes down there,” Wade said. “You got to have that mentality as a big. I played with one of the best shot blockers to ever play this game [Mourning], and that was the mentality he had, that I own this down here and if anyone comes down here I’m going to make it at least tough on them to make this shot.”
Whiteside had eight points, seven rebounds and five blocks in the fourth quarter, including four blocks in the final 91 seconds of the game.
That Whiteside’s triple-double came on nationally televised network game made the moment even bigger.
“It’s truly remarkable that he was able to slip through the cracks, but I’m glad,” Bosh said.