Published On: Sun, Apr 15th, 2018

In Embiid's absence, Whiteside a ghost in Game 1

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(Warning: Story contains coarse language)

The Hassan WhitesideJoel Embiid rivalry fans were dying to watch carry over into the NBA playoffs wasn’t a storyline at all in Game 1 as the Philadelphia 76ers cruised to a 130-103 victory over the Miami Heat on Saturday.

Embiid had yet to be cleared to return from his orbital bone fracture, but he believes he’ll be back in uniform for either Game 2 or 3. Without the All-Star center in Philadelphia’s lineup, you might think Miami would take advantage of his absence and unleash Whiteside down low in the paint and on the glass.

Related: Big Meets Bigger: Embiid vs. Whiteside is heavyweight bout years in the making

If so, you thought wrong. Whiteside was a ghost in his grand total of 12 minutes on the floor at Wells Fargo Center. He scored just two points on four shot attempts, grabbed six boards (three on the offensive glass), blocked two shots, and turned the rock over twice.

This was supposed to be the 28-year-old’s time to shine. The 76ers had no one as big as Whiteside who could gobble up rebounds like him or provide the same kind of rim protection. There wasn’t much of an excuse for Whiteside to not be dominant.

Chalk it up to playing down to his matchup or simply being uninterested, but Whiteside was disengaged when he was on the court.

As rookie Ben Simmons cut through the middle of the lane for a left-handed flush minutes into the first quarter, Whiteside’s renowned shot-blocking instincts apparently failed to kick in, and he merely stood and watched the dunk go down.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra yanked him at the 7:54 mark of the third quarter, and Whiteside never saw the floor again. It was evident on his face as he headed back to the bench that he was frustrated, whether by his own performance or the sense that he should have received a bigger opportunity.

The man who received a hefty chunk of playing time in his stead, Kelly Olynyk, warranted extended minutes. He had 26 points as a reserve on 9-of-13 shooting and 4-of-5 from deep, along with the strongest plus-minus of any Heat player at minus-3.

Whiteside, on the other hand, was a minus-16.

The 7-footer has openly questioned Spoelstra’s tactics in the past. Following an overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets on March 31 where he played just 20 minutes, Whiteside went on a profanity-laced tirade criticizing Miami for constantly going small whenever the opposition does.

“Man, it’s annoying, you know. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up?” Whiteside said at the time. “A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. … It’s really bullshit, man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center.”

On Saturday, Philly had no choice but to go small and look to beat the Heat with outside shooting. The bigs who were available, Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova, aren’t traditional power forwards. Instead, the pair spread the floor to connect on a combined 7-of-10 from 3-point range.


(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Whiteside can’t contend with that. He’s not going to leave his comfort zone and start defending 3-pointers, with the chance he gets beat off the dribble for an easy bucket anyway.

Embiid is the one he wants, and the man who should bring the best out of him – the Joker to his Batman, or vice versa. But without the 76ers star to combat, Whiteside doesn’t have much to bring to the table.

If he did, we would have gotten at least a glimpse of it Saturday. Instead, there was nothing to see.



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