Dion Waiters didn’t play in the fourth quarter in Saturday’s loss to the Boston Celtics – and it had nothing to do with his troublesome left ankle.
It was coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision to go in another direction based on performance.
“Last night, that group wasn’t going,” Spoelstra said of his first unit. “It’s not an indictment on anything. It was clear, at the beginning of the first and third [quarters], that group was flat. We found a group that got us back into the game, made a couple of different subs. We went with that group down the stretch and we weren’t able to get it done. That’s why you have 15 guys on the roster. Different nights call for different things.
“But Dion is fully in the mix [to still close games].”
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The Heat, who signed Waiters to a four-year, $52 million contract this summer, has been outscored by 21 points this season when its starting shooting guard has been on the floor. When he’s been sitting on the bench, Miami is plus-6.
Spoelstra clearly isn’t putting all the blame on Waiters.
After all, his numbers through five games (13.2 points per game, 42.2 percent shooting, 30.8-percent from three-point range, 2.8 assists) are not significantly worse than his totals from last season (15.8 points per game, 42.4 percent shooting, 39.5 percent from three-point range, 4.3 assists).
But it’s clear Waiters isn’t 100 percent following his season-ending ankle injury last March.
“You could see in some games it looks like he has the step and in some games he doesn’t,” Spoelstra said. “But his treatment is going really well. He’s getting better. He’s getting healthier. The pain and all that is clearing up. So he just has to stick with the process.”
Waiters has said he elected not to have surgery this summer because he would have needed eight to 10 months to recover.
Instead, he chose to go through rigorous treatment on the ankle to continue playing. Not only has Waiters missed practices this season to stay off the ankle and rest it, but he’s also going through significant pregame and in-game treatment to keep the ankle from stiffening up. At halftime, Waiters said Saturday, he puts his foot ankle in a heating pad to keep it warm.
Waiters’ teammates appreciate the fact he’s pushing through and trying to play despite the pain.
“I don’t feel sorry for that man. He’s a dog,” James Johnson said of Waiters’ grit and competitiveness. “He knows that we need him. So for him to sacrifice like that is just part of the game, part of the character, part of building something bigger than you.”
Waiters left practice Sunday before reporters could speak to him. A Heat spokesman said Waiters was unavailable because he was doing treatment on his ankle.
HEAT’S FOURTH QUARTER LEADERS
Josh Richardson 51 minutes, 20 points (7-of-18 shooting)
James Johnson 44 minutes, 29 points (11-of-20 shooting)
Tyler Johnson 38 minutes, 9 points (3-of-11 shooting)
Goran Dragic 36 minutes, 25 points (8-of-14 shooting)
Justise Winslow 36 minutes, 6 points (3-of-7 shooting)
Dion Waiters 33 minutes, 12 points (5-of-13 shooting)
Kelly Olynyk 25 minutes, 11 points (3-of-8 shooting)
Wayne Ellington 21 minutes, 7 points (2-of-7 shooting)