Barry Jackson

Whiteside delivers in clutch, appreciates that Spoelstra gave him the chance

Hassan Whiteside was impactful in two games against Milwaukee in the past four days - Sunday in Miami and Wednesday in Milwaukee, where he had season highs in points and blocks. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
Hassan Whiteside was impactful in two games against Milwaukee in the past four days - Sunday in Miami and Wednesday in Milwaukee, where he had season highs in points and blocks. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS) TNS

MILWAUKEE -- Five takeaways from the Heat’s highly entertaining 106-101 win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami’s eighth win its last nine games:

• Hassan Whiteside’s nifty numbers were splendid, of course – the season highs in points (27) and blocks (six) to go with 13 rebounds.

But you know what was more satisfying for Whiteside?

The fact Erik Spoelstra allowed him to play late with the game on the line, and that Whiteside delivered.

"I'm just glad coach allowed me to play [32] minutes," Whiteside said. "He left me out there, he really trusted me tonight. I'm just really happy about that."

Whiteside entered 233rd in the NBA in average fourth quarter minutes (6.6) and having not played a single minute in the fourth quarter of five of Miami’s previous 10 games.

Shortly after entering for the first time in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 90 and 4:59 left, Whiteside rebounded Khris Middleton’s missed three, dunked on a terrific alley-oop from Justise Winslow and then blocked Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim, leading to a Winslow three on the other end to put the Heat up five.

"That's the Whiteside I know; that's the Whiteside I'm used to seeing," guard Wayne Ellington said. "When he asserts himself and is locked in and aggressive the way he is, especially on the defensive end, we're a totally different team. When he plays to his capability, we're a different team."

After several average games by Whiteside since his return from a knee injury, Kelly Olynyk said "We needed that from him. I think he needed that for himself too to keep himself going."

Spoelstra was effusive afterward, saying "Hassan was the player of the game for us obviously…. He was a monster tonight and you could see it from his very first block. You could see it from his very first over the top rebound, you could see it from his very first drive that he was playing with a different aggressiveness. He knows what I’m going to say. I’m going to say, ‘Hey, great job Big Fella. Do it againon Friday.’"

Whiteside set the tone early with 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks in the first quarter. He was engaged and active throughout.

"I was talking to them guys, man, [saying], ‘Just don't foul, just don't foul. I will be there for your help and I will be there regardless of anything at the rim. I want to really be there for you guys and impact winning,’” Whiteside said.

"I got a key block on Giannis at the end that really sparked us into making another three. It was play on top of play after that."

• Justise Winslow is making a difference. In his third game back after a 14-game absence, Winslow played down the stretch and delivered two of the game’s key plays: the pass to Whiteside for the dunk that gave Miami the lead for good with 3:52 left and then a three in transition to put the Heat up five.

He closed with six points, three assists and a rebound in 27 minutes.

"He did a little bit of everything, but you could see the versatility down the stretch just in terms of what we could do defensively," Spoelstra said. "...Obviously the three, but he handles for us when they started to step up the pressure to take up some of that pressure from Josh Richardson and he got us into coherent offensive and that helps."

Winslow appreciated the chance to play late.

"That’s always a goal," he said. "I want to start but I want to finish as many games as possible. In my third game back, for coach to trust me [to play down the stretch] means a lot."

• The Heat is in an enviable position when all of its big men are at the top of their games.

Not only did the Heat get vintage Whiteside, but they benefitted from strong stretches from both Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olnyk.

Olynyk scored eight points early in the fourth quarter on a 15-point night, including a fancy up-and-under move for a basket that had Heat reserves mimicking the move from the bench.

"KO obviously was clutch with his baskets," Spoelstra said. "We were running our offense almost exclusively through him and he was alleviating a lot of the pressure getting free and making something out of nothing a few times, some really clever plays down the stretch."

And Adebayo was a big help with four points, seven rebounds, five assists and a steal in just under 19 minutes. He had two terrific fourth quarter assists to Olynyk and Josh Richardson for layups.

Of the Heat juggling three skilled big men, Olynyk said: "You just got to keep doing what you’re doing, whatever you can do to help this team win is what we need."

• The Heat found a way to get by at shooting guard without both Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson.

As a precautionary measure, Johnson will see a doctor in New York on Thursday to get a second opinion. But Johnson and the Heat still believe his injury is a sprained ankle and Achilles.

Spoelstra said Johnson asked before the game if he could play Wednesday.

"I think he was being serious, but no chance," Spoelstra said. "We all got a good laugh out of it. He’s a psycho. I told him not a chance that he plays tonight.”

With Waiters out for the season and Johnson out for now, Spoelstra started Derrick Jones Jr. at shooting guard, and he had five points on 1 for 3 shooting in 22 minutes, forced a turnover by Antetokounmpo on one sequence was a plus five for the game.

But Wayne Ellington played the most minutes at shooting guard (nearly 28) and had 11 points, including three threes (on six attempts) and two late free throws that put the Heat up five with 9.6 seconds left.

"What Wayne has become now is a big time winner," Spoelstra said.

• The Heat clinched the season series with the Bucks, which gives the Heat the tiebreaker if the franchises finish in a two-way tie this season and also gives Miami homecourt advantage should the teams meet in a playoff series.

The teams play only three times this season, and Miami has won the first two, both in a four-day stretch. The teams play a final time Feb. 9 in Miami.

The Heat, fourth in the East, moved to 26-18 with the win and took a 1.5 game lead over No. 5 Washington, which was blown out by Charlotte.

Indiana (24-20) is in sixth, two back of Miami, and Milwaukee (23-21) is in seventh, now three games back of the Heat.

Unless the teams meet in the playoffs, this was the Heat’s final game at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks are moving to a new arena, adjacent to the Bradley Center, next season.

Incidentally, Goran Dragic entered the game having shot 54.1 percent at Bradley Center in his career, the highest shooting percentage by any active visiting player in the NBA, ahead of No. 2 James Harden (52.4). On Wednesday, Dragic shot 6 for 13 on a 15-point night.