Why was Hassan Whiteside pulled from Friday’s Heat loss to the Cavaliers?

CLEVELAND — Erik Spoelstra believes Hassan Whiteside is important to his team. How important?

“I want him to dominate at the rim and that’s on both ends of the court. He has to and that’s what he’s starting to understand,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside during his pregame session with the media before Friday’s game against the Cavaliers. “If he does not dominate at the rim, in the paint, we don’t have a chance to win. That’s what great players have to shoulder. That’s the responsibility of a great player.”

Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on October 28, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat looks on during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on October 28, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Spoelstra then brought up LeBron James as an example of a player who has flourished while carrying that burden.

“Yes, he can put up 20 and 15 like few I’ve ever seen,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “And if that’s not enough to get a win then there has to be more. There has to be more. That’s the responsibility all the great players in the history of this game have shouldered.”

The comments come just a few days after Whiteside finished with eight points on 4-of-12 shooting in a loss to the Hawks on Wednesday. And the comments came just a few hours before Whiteside turned in an uninspired performance that included eight points, 12 rebounds and zero blocks in Friday’s 114-84 loss to the Cavaliers.

[Udonis Haslem excused from Friday’s game vs. Cavaliers for personal reasons]

[Josh Richardson rejoins Heat in Cleveland]

Spoelstra didn’t let Whiteside get away with it, pulling his max player with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. Whiteside did not return to the game until the start of the fourth quarter.

“Just wanted some more energy, some more life on the glass, defending pick-and-rolls,” Spoelstra said. “That was a coaching decision.”

A coaching decision that sends a clear message to Whiteside even though the 27-year-old is averaging 17.2 points, 14.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game this season.

“This league is for competitors only,” Spoelstra said. “It’s great competitive matchups every single night. We have a lot of guys out, so that’s a big responsibility for Hassan. He’s starting to understand what that actually means.”

But Whiteside didn’t seem to really understand why he was benched. He played through some pain in his left knee after hurting it late in the second quarter Friday.

“On the defensive end I was out at the 3-point line most of the game. The rebounds I could get, I got,” Whiteside said. “And the jump hooks I normally get, I got. So, it wasn’t really a matter of whether I was dominant.”

Whiteside was then asked if he felt that he needed to be dominant for the Heat to win.

“I really don’t know what I’ve got to do, man. I really don’t know,” Whiteside answered. “I’m not going to lie to y’all. I’m coming out here playing as hard as I can, putting up what I can. I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

But Spoelstra and teammates like Goran Dragic know that Whiteside’s performance on Friday was not good enough.

“If he’s not on top of his game, it’s tough,” Dragic said of Whiteside. “We need everybody. He’s our main piece. He’s our franchise player and we need him. Every time he plays like that our chances to win a game are smaller.”

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