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Don't read anything into Gobert not playing down the stretch in Jazz loss

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) shoots as Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside (21) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Miami.

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) shoots as Utah Jazz center Hassan Whiteside (21) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

MIAMI β€” Hassan Whiteside popped up from the floor and flexed both his arms as he let out a triumphant scream.

He had just slid over to stop a Jimmy Butler drive in the closing minutes and drew a charge foul. At least, he did for a moment.

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra twirled his index finger in the air, which signaled for a challenge to the call. Utah's 13-0 run at the end of the fourth quarter that got them back in the game in the 118-115 loss to the Heat and Whiteside's conquest ended as the officials went to the monitor. Whiteside moved before the charge, two free throws to Miami.

It was notable that Whiteside was even in that position late in the game. It was his return to Miami, a place he resurrected his career β€” he didn't leave on the best of terms considering the eagerness of the boos he heard. And Rudy Gobert wasn't in the game with less than two minutes remaining.

Gobert had his least impactful game of the early season against the Heat and had only 8 points, eight rebounds and two free throws (he missed both). The Heat posed an interesting matchup for Gobert and the Jazz. Bam Adebayo is one of the few bigs really capable of changing how the Jazz play, or at the very least making Gobert a bit uncomfortable.

Adebayo's ability to make plays at the elbow means it's difficult for the Jazz to funnel everything toward Gobert; the Heat have too many counters for that. Still, that's not why Whiteside was in for the closing stretch.

"We've had Joe (Ingles) finish a game instead of Bojan (Bogdanovic), so to speak. We've had Jordan (Clarkson) finish a game, we had Hassan finish a game, I've pulled Mike off the table during his rotation. That's gonna be the case for us," Snyder said.

For two seasons now, Snyder's rotations have been pretty consistent. So when things change, they stand out, and Saturday was no different. Utah was down by 19 midway through the fourth quarter when a lineup of Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Bogdanovic, Royce O'Neale and Whiteside led a surge to make the game close at the end.

Usually Gobert would have checked back in to close the game. But on Saturday, he didn't.

Snyder saw a group that was performing at a high level. There wasn't any sign of fatigue, so he mostly let them play it out (Gobert did sub in for the final 17 seconds). Letting Whiteside close wasn't an indictment from Snyder about Gobert's performance or anything of the sort. A lineup was playing well, so he stuck with it.

"That's a hard thing for a player at times, but it's absolutely the right thing," Snyder said. "Everybody wants to play. Hassan came in and gave us really good minutes."

Heck, without a timely challenge from Spoelstra, Whitside's would-be drawn charge could have been a play that swung things the Jazz's way.

After spending five seasons with the Heat, that would have been poetic.

"I enjoyed my time coaching Hassan and we feel that it was a symbiotic relationship," Spoelstra said. "We were able to help him at a point in his career where he's trying to get back in the league and establish himself, and we needed talent and he was able to provide that for us."

The longtime Heat coach was quick to think back to the 2016 playoffs and wonder how far his team could have gone if Whiteside didn't get hurt, and think of the progress he made the next season to play "winning basketball."

"He fits great in that system (in Utah), particularly defensively, and they're always going to have that kind of shot blocking rim protection now," Spoelsta said. "Even when Gobert's out of the game. I'm happy for Hassan. He's one of the guys that you root for."

Just not enough to keep from challenging a call.

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