Bam Adebayo took no solace in the fact the odds were stacked against him.
It didn’t matter that Adebayo, the Heat’s rookie center, was tasked with the job of slowing down the Spurs’ All-Star frontcourt in his first career start Wednesday night.
From time to time when LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol scored on him in the paint on Wednesday night, Adebayo shook his head in disgust.
"Like going against anybody else, I take it personal," Adebayo said. "I’d do that (shake head) if anybody scored on me. It’s a personal thing, I always go against my matchups and I always challenge myself. I came up short tonight."
Adebayo became the third youngest player in Heat history (20 years, 99 days old) to start a game. Only Justise Winslow (19 years, 291 days) and Michael Beasley (19 days, 294 days) were younger.
Adebayo was told he’d start by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra after Wednesday morning’s shootaround.
Adebayo, who had only played six scoreless minutes a week ago in the Heat’s season-opener in Orlando, scored four points on a pair of dunks off alley-oop passes, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked one shot in 19 minutes and 35 seconds.
Adebayo started for the injured Hassan Whiteside, who missed his third game in a row with a bone bruise in his left knee.
"I thought his minutes were solid," Spoelstra said. "That’s a big ask on our part to throw him in there to start against a multi-year All-Star. A guy that has been playing extremely well this year and has a lot of elements to his game that keep you honest. I thought Bam gave us some energy, athleticism."
This wasn’t the first time Spoelstra has tested Adebayo’s readiness.
In a preseason game Oct. 9 against the Hornets, Adebayo entered the game with the Heat’s regular rotation pitting him against eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard. Adebayo picked up three fouls in a little over three minutes.
While he couldn’t slow down the Spurs’ onslaught during a 117-100 loss on Wednesday, Adebayo showed some of the potential the Heat was looking for when they drafted him out of the University of Kentucky with the 14th pick of the first round of this year’s NBA draft.
"There wasn’t anxiety," Adebayo said. "I was always prepared. Everybody kept telling me stay ready and that was my calling. I went out there, played hard, we came up short."
Adebayo’s two dunks came off perfectly-timed feeds from Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson and were reminiscent of the chemistry shown between the Heat’s guards and Whiteside on such plays.
"We’ve been working on that and he’s got that great ability to go high and get those lobs," Dragic said.
Spoelstra started Jordan Mickey at center in the past two games that Whiteside missed, but he went with Adebayo on Wednesday to ty and counter the tall frontcourt of the 6-11 Aldridge and 7-foot Gasol, both of whom are two of the best paint scorers in the league.
Aldridge finished with a game-high 31 points on 12 of 18 shooting and Gasol finished with 13 points.
The Spurs came in averaging 51.3 points in the paint and scored 44 against the Heat with 40 coming in the first three quarters.
"It was really tough, but it was a great experience for him," said Kelly Olynyk, who gave Adebayo some encouragement in the locker room after the game. "It’s probably the toughest team you could roll out your career against as far as getting your first start. He did alright. He definitely has stuff to learn and grow. But he’s doing that every day.
"As he learns the game, he’ll learn to use his strength, speed and quickness to really disrupt things and he’ll be a really good defensive player."