Hassan Whiteside returns to Game 1 after straining right knee

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With 4:54 to play in the first quarter of Game 1, Hassan Whiteside ran into Jonas Valanciunas along the baseline. Valanciunas had a firm base, and Whiteside hit the deck, his right leg bending underneath him as he fell.

There was no foul on the play, but play stopped as the ball went out of bounds (a Heat turnover). Whiteside stayed on the floor for a moment, holding his right knee, before being helped to the team’s bench. He then went to the Heat locker room, with Amar’e Stoudemire checking in after the injury timeout. There wasn’t a lot of unnatural motion, but it’s hard to judge an injury from a short clip.

Luckily for the Heat, Whiteside returned to the sideline later in the quarter, and he’s expected to return (update: he returned in the second quarter). The Heat are calling the injury a right knee sprain.

If Whiteside were to be seriously injured, or even limited, that’s a series-changing event, one that would require the Heat to fundamentally change how they defend. Their backup centers are Stoudemire, Udonis Haslem, and maybe Josh McRoberts. It would cast additional focus on the strange Chris Bosh situation, too.

And for the Raptors, it would stand to make Valanciunas perhaps the most important player in the series. He’s proving to be incredibly important early, anyway – he had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting with three rebounds in 10 first-quarter minutes.

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