A right knee injury shelved Hassan Whiteside for most of the final three quarters of Game 3, and the Heat was very concerned on Saturday about the potential severity.
X-rays came back negative, but Whiteside will undergo an MRI on Sunday to determine if there is any ligament damage.
Even if there is no tear to a knee ligament, a sprained ligament also could sideline a player for a while. Golden State’s Stephen Curry has missed two weeks with a sprained MCL.
Asked if he believes it could be a long-term injury, Whiteside said: “I don’t know. We’ll know more when I get the MRI. … I’m going to just pray on it.”
He said he had never felt anything like that before in his knee and that his first instinct was that it’s bad. The Heat referred to the injury as a “twisted” knee.
The injury — which the Heat initially announced as a sprain — happened when Whiteside lost his balance and fell to the floor when jockeying for a rebound early in the second quarter.
Luol Deng and Kyle Lowry each made contact with Whiteside as he fell. It was the same knee that Whiteside strained in Game 1, but he said this is an entirely different injury. After the game, Whiteside left the locker room with his leg in a soft cast.
“I was just going for the rebound, and I felt someone fall on my knee,” Whiteside said. “I think Kyle Lowry dove or fell into my knee and pushed it in. I didn’t see the play, but that’s what happened.”
Meanwhile, Toronto lost its center, Jonas Valanciunas, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds and left for good with 8:53 left in the third quarter after spraining his right ankle. The Raptors led by 13 at the time.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey said he has no break or structural damage and is day to day.
Without Whiteside, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used all three of his reserve centers: Udonis Haslem (eight points, seven rebounds in 22 minutes), Josh McRoberts (four points, four rebounds in 13 minutes) and Amar’e Stoudemire (scoreless, zero rebounds in four minutes).
Haslem started the second half and Stoudemire didn’t play at all in the second half.
Whiteside’s injury Saturday came a night after a memorable dinner at a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino steakhouse with NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell. Mutual friends arranged the dinner, which marked the first time they met. Spoelstra was among others in attendance.
“It was great; [Russell] is a really nice guy, really down to earth,” Whiteside said before the game. “There were a lot of things we got to take away from this. We talked about life, talked about basketball, talked about his rookie year. We talked about championships. We talked about a lot.”
On the issue of blocks, they share a lot in common. Russell is arguably the best defensive center in history, though blocks weren’t kept as a stat in his era. Whiteside’s 3.7 blocks average this season was the NBA’s highest since Theo Ratliff averaged slightly more in 2000-01.
“We talked about blocks,” Whiteside said. “He said every block that goes out of bounds is a bad block. He said that’s the thing he really likes about what I do. I keep it in bounds.
“He was telling people blocking shots today is a lot harder than it is when he played. He was talking about the factor of it demoralizes teams. He said, ‘You’re not going to be able to block every shot. Just make them think you’re going to block every shot.’ ”
Another topic they touched on, Whiteside said, was “what it takes to be a leader. How he was always worried about his guys on the court. He never led his team in scoring. He just did all the extra stuff.”
Whiteside feels fortunate that he has cultivated relationships with several premier big men: Shaquille O’Neal, Heat executive Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon (who tutored Whiteside for several days a few summers ago) and now Russell.
“He’s got a really big personality,” Whiteside said of Russell. “Anytime I get to learn more and get a feel for somebody as great as he is, I’m going to do that. He said he’s going to keep watching me.”