Whiteside doubles down that late foul was a poor call as Jazz lose to Suns

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SALT LAKE CITY — Chants of "MVP, MVP, MVP" rang out through Vivint Arena.

They were for Phoenix's Devin Booker.

The thousands of Jazz fans, who moments earlier had reached decibel levels not heard in Utah's home arena this season, were silenced. The abruptness was almost stunning.

One moment, the Jazz were trending toward a huge comeback; the next, it was all over with Booker and the Suns celebrating a 105-97 victory. The Jazz looked to be one stop away from completing a comeback, and suddenly everything changed.

With 1:45 left in regulation and the Jazz down by 4 points, Hassan Whiteside inexplicably shoved Jalen Smith to the ground. It was a clear and obvious offensive foul that ended with Whiteside also receiving a technical. The play took the air out of the arena and the team, and it started an 8-0 Phoenix run that ended the game in their favor.

In an instant, Utah's bid to come back from being down by 21 points was over.

When Utah coach Quin Snyder was asked about the pivotal foul, he started with the deficit.

"What I saw was Booker score 21 points in the first quarter because we didn't run back and we got down 20," Snyder said.

He pointed to missed offensive rebounds, fouls and a lack of focus in Phoenix's hot start. He criticized his team that didn't run back or prioritize the things they needed to win the game.

But his answer wasn't done there.

He then focused on how Mike Conley's desire to win sparked a big second quarter where the Jazz outscored Phoenix 30-11 to get back into the game, saying that Conley "spilled his guts on the floor."

Conley was maybe more animated than he's ever been in a Jazz uniform. During Utah's fourth quarter rally, he frequently urged the crowd to get into the game and was probably closer than he's ever been to picking up his first career technical foul. He finished with 16 points and 10 assists.

In the fourth quarter, Conley consistently broke the paint to set up scoring chances for the Jazz, and back-to-back assists to Whiteside in the final minutes cut the Phoenix lead to 2 points with plenty of time left to maintain the comeback.

But, ultimately, the lack of focus the Jazz started the game with came back at the end.

"This is a group that they have to find that," Snyder said of the focus and urgency.

Conley said that during Snyder's postgame talk with the team, he told the players they've seen the film, know the plays and know what they are expected to do. Now, it's a matter of just doing it; he urged individual accountability.

But that brings it back to Snyder's initial answer.

After going through darn-near the entire game, he finally landed on the topic of the actual question: Whiteside's end-of-game blunder. Surprisingly enough, the coach addressed it.

"Hassan's foul? There were a lot of fouls," he said. "Hassan has gotta keep self control. It's unfortunate, but we also had other situations throughout the course of the game. Us talking to officials, pleading our case, we didn't do that when we were coming back. We played through contact, we adjusted to the way the game was being called. Anytime there's mental errors in the game, guys have to keep their cool."

Whiteside walked into the postgame press conference with the loss clearly weighing on his mind. He grew emotional as he talked about how he spent the last couple weeks dealing with a bad case of COVID-19; he was quarantined in his basement with a 104-degree fever away from the team and everything else.

Did he feel 100% on Wednesday?

"Hell no," Whiteside said. "I've been in a basement for 10 days. I'm human."

And he made a human mistake.

The Jazz scored on their last five offensive possessions before Whiteside's offensive foul. Conley had found a rhythm and Clarkson was cooking, scoring 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. All that momentum that had grown over the course of the quarter came to an abrupt halt.

"Dude just jumped out in front of me and fell over," Whiteside said of his late foul. "That call was (expletive). I stand on that."

Replay, though, showed a different version of events: a clear offensive foul that led to the team's unwinding — and left Jazz fans in stunned sudden silence.

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