Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters discusses his season debut Wednesday in Cleveland.
This never should have been about the game itself, not with the Cleveland Cavaliers this bad, entering a league worst 8-29, on a six-game losing streak.
So even with Josh Richardson scoring 24 and Hassan Whiteside grabbing 12 rebounds, Wednesday night's 117-92 Miami Heat victory at Quicken Loans Arena transcended what transpired during most of the 48 minutes, as the Heat moved back to .500 at 18-18.
Instead, it was about Dion Waiters first action since Dec. 22, 2017, back for the first time since last January's ankle surgery.
"You can see what he brings," coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Ultimately, it was limited to a pair of cameos of 6:26 in the first half for Waiters and then the final minutes at the close when it was decided, facilitated by Dwyane Wade being unavailable due to a stomach illness.
But it also injected a spark of optimism into a season spent searching for a way to get above .500 and move beyond.
In the end, Waiters closed 3 of 9 for seven points, with three assists and two rebounds, taking a turn in Spoelstra's zone defense as a reminder of earlier day's in Jim Boeheim's alignment at Syracuse.
"At the end of the day, you've got to bet on yourself," said Waiters, insisting he never had doubts about a successful return.
In a cold building that also houses a minor-league hockey team, prudence was the approach in holding Waiters with the exception of the brief stints.
As it is, the ankle will remain closely monitored.
"There will be pain here and there, because it's new," Waiters said, "but it is nowhere near before I got surgery. Being able to have that excitement, waking up every day, knowing my body and my foot are improving, I always had the confidence."
The Heat led 58-43 at halftime and moved to a 93-73 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Five degrees of Heat from Wednesday's game:
1. Waiters' world: This was the moment Waiters had been waiting for since last January's ankle surgery and he seized it upon entering.
"At the end of the clock," Spoelstra said of a variety of Richardson shot that beat the buzzer, "you need guys who can create."
5. Board beast: Although his offensive opportunities were limited with the Heat 8 of 14 on 3-pointers in the first half, Hassan Whiteside already was up to nine rebounds at the intermission, even with Cleveland center Tristan Thompson back in the starting lineup after missing the previous 10 games with a sprained left foot.