MILWAUKEE – This is the Hassan Whiteside the Miami Heat have looked for since the big man returned from his knee injury.
And the Heat needed every big of Whiteside’s inspired effort to get past the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
Three days after handling the Bucks at home, the Heat did it again. But this time it was not as easy. Miami broke open a close game late and escaped with a 106-101 victory at the Bradley Center.
The Heat (26-18) have won eight-of-nine and improved their road record to 14-9. Miami routed the Bucks, 97-79, Sunday.
“The first half was played on their terms, in their house at their pace and they’re an explosive offensive team.” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They can put points on the board in a hurry and they can do it in a lot of different ways. They put a lot of pressure on you at the rim and in the paint.
“But in the second half, it was a little bit more to our liking. We stepped up more defensively, got them more to the end of the clock, prevented them from just easy ones and we were able to grind it out somehow at the end.”
Whiteside led the Heat with a season-high 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting and 13 rebounds. He added six blocks, also a season-high. Khris Middleton scored 25 points for the Bucks (23-21).
The Heat were without Tyler Johnson, who injured his left ankle Monday in Chicago and was in a walking boot Wednesday. Derrick Jones Jr. started in Johnson’s place.
Here are our five takeaways:
Earning his minutes: Much has been made about Whiteside’s fourth-quarter minutes lately, considering he had not played the final quarter in five of the 10 games since he returned from his bruised left knee. But Whiteside earned those minutes early Wednesday with 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks in 10 first-quarter minutes. He sat the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the Heat kept the score close before returning with 4:59 to play. He then had three key rebounds to help the Heat salt away the win.
“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,” Spoelstra said. “He knows what I’m going to say. I’m going to say, ‘Hey, great job Big Fella. Do it again.’ ”
Guarding Giannis: For the second consecutive game, the Heat held Giannis Antetokounmpo below his season average. Antetokounmpo entered averaging 28.3 points per game and scored 22, the same number he managed in Miami on Sunday. Antetokounmpo was just 6-of-15 from the field after making half of his 12 shots Sunday. And he struggled from the line, going 8-of-15 after making all 10 of his free throws Sunday.
“Great players have the ability to make you look bad and sometimes you don’t want to put yourself (out there) to protect yourself from being embarrassed,” Spoelstra said before the game. “You have to go out there and compete. The ultimate sign of respect is when you don’t show somebody respect and give them nothing. That’s what a player like Giannis deserves. He deserves our whole attention.”
Olynyk in the clutch: Kelly Olynyk entered the fourth quarter with five points. He then scored the Heat’s first eight points and had 10 in the first six minutes to help keep the Heat close. Olynyk also was the recipient of a forearm to the head by Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe, who was slapped with a Flagrant 1 foul. Olynyk finished with 15 points in 16 minutes.
“We trust and believe in every one of our guys,” Olynyk said. “We trust everybody’s going to make the right play. Whoever’s hand it lies in, we believe in him. It’s not a matter of getting the ball to one guy. When we get down to that fourth quarter, we kind of look at what’s working, what’s been working and we try to exploit it.
James Johnson’s struggles continue: Johnson has not been himself since returning from his ankle injury. The Heat captain had another rough night with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting, although five of those points game in the fourth quarter. Johnson missed 6-of-7 games but since returning, he has scored in single digits in five of those, including fewer than five points three times.
The road gets a little less bumpy: The Heat started this trip on the second day of a back-to-back in Chicago and with a rematch against a potential top-four team in the East they beat just four days earlier. Now the road is a bit more forgiving, at least for the next two games. Miami travels to Brooklyn to face the Nets on Friday before playing at Charlotte the next night. Additionally, the Heat owes Brooklyn for the 111-87 beat down the Nets handed them last month in Miami.