Five takeaways from the Heat’s 96-90 loss to the Boston Celtics Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena:
1. Hassan Whiteside needs to get back on the court. If you watched closely among the many frustrating moments of Saturday night’s eighth consecutive loss to the Celtics, you might have noticed a red-faced and flustered Goran Dragic sitting next to Whiteside on the bench, who was consoling him by patting him on the back.
“He told me ‘Just calm down G, play your game and attack, try to get everybody involved.’ It helps because yeah I was frustrated,” said Dragic, who led Miami with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting. “I have high expectations for this team. That’s why I’m frustrated. Because we’re not playing at a level that we know we can.
“He’s our heart,” Dragic continued in speaking of Whiteside. “You can see it. Everyone is going into the paint. His ability to stop people or just to change shots is huge. Then, you know, rebounding is a huge factor for us when he’s on the floor.
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“When you get some stops you can run more and I feel like we’ll figure out [the offensive struggles] when we get some stops and open up the transition game, get some easy buckets. Then it will be much easier like last year. Hopefully he’s coming back soon.”
The last thing Dragic and the Heat want is for the season to continue to get off on the wrong foot like it did last year – with a huge, huge hole to climb out of.
Whiteside, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee, could be back very soon. If he practices Sunday it’s likely a good sign he’ll be on the court Monday when the Minnesota Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns visit.
That said, the last thing the Heat wants to do is rush Whiteside back before he’s ready.
“We talk, but we don't want to force him [to play] if he’s not OK,” Dragic said. “He’s good every day. He’s coming in early, doing treatments. He’s with the team, talking a lot. That’s the only thing he can do right now, take of his body, try to get better. And when the doctors or [trainer] Jay [Sabol] say he’s got a green light, then he’ll be back.”
2. A big reason the Heat needs Whiteside back: Miami is getting killed on the boards and opponents scoring second chance points. Boston scored 21 second-chance points and won the rebounding battle 41-40 on Saturday.
The Heat entered Saturday’s game 26th in the league in rebounding (40.5 per game). Boston was ninth (46.0).
“I think we’re spectating a lot, watching the other guys go get it,” Josh Richardson said before Saturday’s loss. “We’re probably too used to Hassan going to get rebounds. We’ve definitely got to be a little more physical on the boards.”
Miami put forth a better effort for sure, outrebounding the Celtics 22-19 at the half. But it wasn’t enough. When Miami needed rebounds late it didn’t happen.
Miami, by the way, came in giving up a league worst 18.5 second chance points per game. Last season Miami ranked 15th (12.8) in second chance points allowed.
3. Uncharacteristic turnovers killed the Heat in the first half and coupled with the second chance points allowed proved to be the difference. Miami came in averaging the third-fewest turnovers in the league (13.8 per game), but had 11 by halftime that led directly to 15 points for the Celtics. Boston finished with 21 points off the Heat's miscues.
“When you have a possession game like that, those turnovers and the throwaway possessions on outlet passes, inbound passes, crosscourt passes and things of that nature really crush you,” Spoelstra said.
“On top of that, to give up all the second chance points on the loose balls. From there, I think that’s where the game was. Everything else is, it is how you expect it to be against a very good team. You have to grind out possessions. You have to execute. We had some where we executed well and we had some where we didn’t, and the same for them. But I think the difference was all those extra possessions and turnovers and offensive rebounds.”
4. Why was Dion Waiters sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter? The Heat’s starting shooting guard was relegated to spectator in the fourth quarter because Spoelstra thought he had a better lineup on the floor. Waiters played just eight minutes in the second half and finished 2-of-8 shooting, 1-of-4 from three-point range with five points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in 24 minutes.
Spoelstra said Waiters’ absence had nothing to do with his ankle.
“We were looking for anything to stem the tide,” Spoelstra said. “The group that we had in there crawled all the way back. We wanted to keep on going and see if we could find a way to steal a win. We weren’t able to do that.”
5. Miami’s offense is out of whack. The Heat shot a season-low 43 percent from the field and was 7-of-31 on three-pointers. Boston’s defense had a lot to do with it. But so did bad shot selection.
“Everybody was frustrated tonight. I’m not even sure [what was wrong],” Dragic said. “The flow was not [there]. Everybody was like low energy. It’s tough to describe. Maybe that fourth quarter we started playing better. We moved the ball. We penetrated, got shots we needed to make. But that’s how it needs to be the whole game. Right now the first unit we don't look good. So we’re going to have to make some changes to our approach or how we want to play. You can learn from these mistakes. Hopefully we’re going to figure it out quick.”
Miami has shot better than 47 percent just once thus far. The Heat did that 32 times last season.