Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was succinct pregame about the challenge of Milwaukee Bucks forward Gianni Antetokounmpo, better known as the Greek Freak.
"Well, then you better have some freaks of nature behind your defense, as well, that can do some great things," he said. "Hassan has that ability. Hassan is a freak of nature in his own way."
As in Heat center Hassan Whiteside, as in the big man who set the tone for what turned into Wednesday night's 106-101 victory over the Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
With Whiteside closing with a season-high 27 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high six blocks, the Heat passed both their spell check and this road test.
"He was a monster tonight," Spoelstra said, "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."
Antetokounmpo closed with 22 points for the Bucks.
With James Johnson and Justise Winslow contributing key late 3-pointers, the Heat were able to shake off Monday's loss to the Chicago Bulls at the start of this five-game trip and make it eight wins in their last nine games.
"I wanted to bounce back," Whiteside said, after being held out of the entire fourth quarter of Monday's loss.
Did he ever.
"To be honest," Winslow said, "it wasn't anything in the box score. You could see the effort, you could see the energy. And when we see that, we know we've got a good chance in winning. So, for us, we could care less about the box score when it comes to Hassan. We can just tell by his energy and his effort what kind of night it's going to be."
Spoelstra had to go to his 14th starting lineup of the season, with Tyler Johnson out after severely spraining his left ankle in Monday's loss in Chicago, with Achilles complications, as well. Johnson is scheduled to see a specialist Thursday in New York, in advance of the Heat's Friday game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
Johnson's absence had Spoelstra turning back to Derrick Jones Jr., who started victories over the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers last week when Johnson was dealing with neck and shoulder issues.
Jones is in the midst of a two-way contract, with 13 days of NBA service left on his dual developmental-league deal. The Heat also recalled Derrick Walton Jr., the Heat's other player on a two-way contract, from the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce. Walton is down to 11 remaining days of NBA service, from the initial allotment of 45 days for two-way contracts.
The Heat starting lineup was rounded out by Whiteside, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Goran Dragic.
Like so many recent Heat victories, it came down to big plays when needed most.
A 3-pointer by James Johnson gave the Heat a 93-90 lead midway through the fourth quarter, only to see it matched by an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer.
A Whiteside alley-oop conversion off a Winslow feed then put the Heat up 95-93.
A Whiteside blocked shot followed, as did a Winslow 3-pointer, for a 98-93 Heat edge, leading to a Bucks timeout.
After Khris Middleton was off on a 3-pointer, James Johnson was fouled with 2:34 to play, his free throws putting the Heat up 100-93.
A pair of free throws by Eric Bledsoe drew the Bucks within 100-95.
After a pair of rimmed-out Bucks 3-point attempts, Dragic scored inside for a 102-95 Heat lead.
That's when Middleton converted a 3-pointer to draw Milwaukee within 102-98.
Eventually, the teams were left with a jump ball with that score with 16.1 seconds left.
Later, a Middleton 3-pointer drew the Bucks within 104-101, before Heat guard Wayne Ellington converted a pair of free throws to seal it.
"Ultimately, this was a highly competitive game, two evenly matched teams and it’s up for grabs and you need a little bit of everything going down the stretch," said Spoelstra, who got just that.
"We didn't get necessarily always the shots we wanted to but our guys have been in so many of these situations now, we’re very comfortable."
With Kelly Olynyk sparking the Heat with his crafty post game, scoring the Heat's first eight points of the fourth quarter, the Heat moved back into the lead early in the fourth, as Whiteside watched from the bench.
Olynyk then absorbed an elbow from Bledsoe with 6:26 to play and the Heat down 90-88, with the foul deemed flagrant following review.
Olynyk converted both free throws to tie it 90-90, but then was off on a 3-point attempt.
Before that, Whiteside carried his early dominance into the second half, up to 25 points, 10 rebounds going into the fourth quarter, which opened with the Heat down 77-76.
It was Whiteside's first 20 point game since mid-November. The five blocks to that stage matched the most by a Heat player in a game this season entering the night.
The Bucks pushed to a 57-52 halftime lead by cashing in on nine first-half Heat turnovers.
Whiteside was up to 14 points and seven rebounds by the intermission, with Dragic at 11 points and four assists at that stage.
The Heat trailed by five at the intermission despite shooting 7 of 13 on 3-pointers in the first half.
Whiteside got off to a solid start, with 10 points, four rebound and two blocked shots in his 10:03 of the first period, helping the Heat take a 30-25 lead into the second period.
The Heat led 23-11 before a pair of Tony Snell 3-pointers drew the Bucks back into the game.
It was the second game of the three-game season series and the Heat's lone visit of 2017-18 to Milwaukee.
The Heat won the first meeting 97-79 Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena, behind 25 points from Dragic, limiting the Bucks to season-low .316 shooting.
The Heat entered having won three in a row from the Bucks and four of the previous five meetings, winning at least once in Milwaukee in each of the previous two seasons.
The game was the second on a five-game trip for the Heat, who were coming off Monday's 119-111 loss in Chicago, when they fell behind by 19 in the second half and saw the Bulls convert 16 3-pointers to snap the Heat's seven-game winning streak.
The Bucks, who entered 3-3 in their previous six home games, were coming off Monday's 104-95 victory in Washington.
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