After having some more time to digest the ugly difference between the first and second half of Saturday night’s Game 1 loss to the Philadephia 76ers, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra kept using the same word when describing what went wrong.
“There were a lot of things,” Spoelstra said after his team broke down film and practiced Sunday afternoon at Temple University. “But Philly played with more force consistently throughout the course of the game and that was on both ends of the court.”
Playing without All-Star center Joel Embiid, the Sixers essentially forced Spoelstra to sit down the Heat’s biggest defensive force in the second half of Game 1.
With three-point threats Ersan Ilyasova (6-10, 235) and Dario Saric (6-10, 223) lining up at center and stretching the floor, Hassan Whiteside (7-0, 265) played only 12 minutes and 26 seconds. He sat and played spectator as the Sixers’ lead grew from 69-63 when he exited with 7:54 to play in the third quarter to as many as 29 points midway through the fourth.
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With Embiid ruled out again for Game 2 Monday night, Spoelstra expects Philly to put its offense “into hyper-drive even more.” So, does Spoelstra feel comfortable putting Whiteside back out there to guard those guys again in this series?
“He would have to and that’s not the first time that we’ve worked through this,” Spoelstra said. “I mean that’s the way the league has been and that’s what he’s been working on all season is to play shooting bigs and still find ways to impact our team positively at the rim. It’s a challenge with all their shooting. That’s what the playoffs are about. It’s tough to win and that’s a good team. So are we.
“We have to find a way to overcome some of their strengths and things they do well. Without Embiid, they go to those kind of shooting lineups and actions probably more than they normally do. We just have to find a way.”
Whiteside on Sunday took some ownership for his performance in Game 1. He knows the two points (on four shots), six rebounds and two blocks he turned in with Embiid out wasn’t enough.
“I was just trying to get a feel for the game early,” Whiteside said. “I’ve got to come out with the mindset that we’ve played them and they’re a different team without Embiid.
“Just with their pick and rolls, you definitely have to make them pay for it. I have to be more aggressive than I was last game. I wasn’t that aggressive. I only took three or four shots. I’ve got to be a little more aggressive.”
You can talk about his effort on Saturday, but Whiteside only had eight opportunities to grab rebounds according to Second Spectrum, the NBA’s statistical player tracking system.
Offensively during the regular season, Whiteside averaged 10.2 of his 14 points per game inside the paint. Saturday night, he touched the ball only 17 times total and a handful of times in the paint.
Of Whiteside's four shot attempts, his only make was on a layup off a lob from James Johnson with 5:29 left in the first quarter. His other shots: a 10-foot floater which fell short of the rim as he rushed to try and beat the shot clock; a missed tip-in attempt on a Johnson missed jumper and a failed alley-oop dunk in the third quarter on a lob from Josh Richardson that was a little too high.
“We didn’t take advantage of that,” Richardson said of Whiteside’s size advantage on the offensive end. “I’ll take part of that, that’s on us. We can’t allow them to put guys like Saric or Ilyasova on H because he’s bigger than them. We just have to make it happen.”
But so does Whiteside.
“Hassan has to figure out ways when he's out there to put himself in better positions and understanding what the defense is doing when they guard him,” Dwyane Wade said. “He has to put himself in better positions offensively where it’s not about just post-ups and duck-ins. There's other ways you can kind of play with the defense and get opportunities, especially when you've got guys in your lineup like Tyler and Goran and JJ, those guys who drive and put pressure on the rim.
“Outside of that, the minutes you're out there, control those minutes. That's what I talked to him about [after the game Saturday]. You can't control what they're going to do and how many minutes you're going to matchup at the five. You just got to control what Hassan can do out there and that's go out there, hit the offensive glass, make it tough on them, run the floor, make them have to get you and if they don't make sure the guards throw it up to you. It's all these things. He has to be a little bit more forceful and I think he will be. Playing 12 minutes, watching the film today, I think hopefully he learned from it and can be better [Monday].”
Spoelstra said it is ultimately up to Whiteside to force Philadelphia’s hand to make adjustments.
“All the power and muscle areas, they have to feel him,” Spoelstra said. “He has that ability.”
In other words, Whiteside has to get back to being a force.