Why did Heat center Hassan Whiteside play just 12 minutes in Game 1? Erik Spoelstra and Whiteside discuss

Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside, right, reaches for the ball while Philadelphia 76ers’ Amir Johnson, left, defends during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Sixers knew they had to play Game 1 without their starting center. But the Heat weren’t planning on playing most of the game without theirs.

When Game 1 was over Saturday, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside played just 12 minutes, 26 seconds more than the injured Joel Embiid. And Embiid missed the contest after undergoing surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture two weeks ago.

Even with Philadelphia missing its All-Star center, the 28-year-old Whiteside was unable to leave his imprint on the game. The Heat’s $98 million center was in his usual starting role, but played just 12 minutes to finish with two points on 1-of-4 shooting, six rebounds and two blocks in a 130-103 blowout loss to the Sixers to open the first-round playoff series.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t criticize Whiteside after the game, saying the decision to leave him on the bench for most of the contest was “not about” Whiteside. But it’s clear that Spoelstra felt more comfortable with Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo at center, as Olynyk logged 31 minutes and Adebayo logged 21 minutes Saturday.

“It’s not about him,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside, as the Heat now turn their attention to Monday’s Game 2. “The whole second half, this series and this game, it’s going to go quickly. There’s a lot of subs both ways. There’s not a lot of time based on the flow or the matchups. It’s not necessarily an indictment to his first four minutes [of the second half]. But we all have to be collectively better on Monday.”

Whiteside started the second half, but he was subbed out for Olynyk with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter and he never returned to the game. Olynyk finished with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

“I think coach wanted some change. K.O. was playing well,” Whiteside said. “Of course, I would love to be out there rebounding and blocking shots and be out there with my teammates. But I think K.O. was playing well so coach just wanted to get him out there.”

This is not the first time that playing time has been an issue for Whiteside this season. The 7-footer averaged 25.3 minutes during the regular season after logging a career-high 32.6 minutes last season.

After selecting Adebayo with the 14th overall pick of last year’s draft and signing Olynyk in free agency last offseason, Whiteside has found himself on a roster that features three centers battling for playing time.

Whiteside’s diminished minutes became a storyline this season and it turned into a headline when he was fined an undisclosed amount of money for complaining about his playing time following an overtime loss to the Nets on March 31. He played 20 minutes in the contest, but was subbed out of the game with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter and never returned as Spoelstra turned to a small lineup that featured James Johnson at center to match up with Brooklyn’s personnel.

“Man, it’s annoying. Why we matching up?,” Whiteside said after that March defeat. “We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull—-. It’s really bull—-, man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. [Expletive]. That’s bull—-.”

Whiteside had a much different response Saturday when asked about Spoelstra’s decision to keep him on the bench for most of the second half in Game 1.

“He just wanted to change it up,” Whiteside said. “I trust coach. I trust his decision-making. We didn’t get this one. They shot amazing from the field. We didn’t get this one, but we move to Game 2.”

The hope is that Whiteside will truly move on.

“I had a conversion with him on the sideline,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “‘The biggest thing is telling him, ‘Man, listen, control what you can control.’ When you’re out on the court, that’s what you control, your minutes out there. So, you know, it’s not easy for anyone to not play the minutes that they want to play. Period. It’s hard on guys. But Game 1 is over. Come back in Game 2 and be a different player, dominate different and you won’t come out.”

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[Dwyane Wade says playoff experience helpful, but cautions it guarantees nothing]

[Heat Mailbag: Could this be a career-defining series for Hassan Whiteside? Plus, a couple of Heat X-factors]

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