Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes
PHOENIX – Donovan Mitchell said it was different.
He said the tunnels after the game; he said so during his post-match press conference; and he kept repeating the line.
“I really don’t have a word for it, but I think there’s just a different – different effort,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s the most important thing.”
After Sunday’s 118-114 win over the Phoenix Suns, the Jazz string together two high-quality win streaks to start play after the All-Star break. And, yes, it is different.
The Jazz team that struggled in the clutch this season suddenly won two close games against NBA superstars.
The jazz team that was looking for signature wins suddenly picks them up at a frequent rate.
What about the Jazz team that was looking for an identity? Maybe – just maybe – they found one.
“It’s taken us a while to evolve, to mold a different identity with different players and therefore to have games like this – tough games, tight games, against teams that are really, really good, really disciplined, playing defense is something that can help us,” coach Quin Snyder said.
Mitchell drove to his right and backed up before setting up something that looked like a desperation attempt. The shot clock was running dry and Mitchell was caught deep in the corner. He had to put something in place.
Moments later, he was jumping onto the pitch after his 3-pointer inexplicably clicked.
Mitchell’s shot with 1:51 to go put the Jazz in the lead 10 and helped Utah claim the win – minutes later it emerged as the game winner. An 8-1 run in Phoenix made it a one-possession game and the Jazz could only breathe easy after former Jazzman Jae Crowder threw the ball out of bounds in the final seconds.
“I hadn’t planned to use the glass but the angle, I went further than I wanted to,” Mitchell said of his last 3-pointer. “My only option was to use the back panel.”
This game sums up Utah’s recent streak where the Jazz have won eight in nine games. Things haven’t gone to script this season — the majority of the returning team haven’t matched the same success in the regular season — but over the past few weeks, the Jazz have made it work.
Sunday was the latest example.
Utah got a usual big performance from Mitchell — 26 points and five assists — but it was other performances that really pushed the Jazz to the top against Phoenix.
After a somewhat hazy first half, Jordan Clarkson was a revelation after halftime. He scored 16 of his 22 points after the break, but it was more than a good shot. With 4:37 left in the game, Clarkson drove to the edge. Of course, he was looking to score – it’s rare that the reigning Sixth Man of the Year isn’t. But his shot wasn’t there and the Suns had crumbled from the corner, leaving Danuel House Jr. wide open.
Clarkson kicked House, which buried the 3-pointer — one of House’s last two 3s that helped Utah fend off the Suns.
Clarkson admitted he may not have made this play, or others like it, earlier in the season. But, like the team, he has evolved.
“These games I have to keep making,” Clarkson said. “… (It’s) just growth, studies, the time we put into it, the coaching staff bringing it to my attention.”
As for House, he may have been the story of the game. House was so successful in navigating the screens and staying ahead of Devin Booker that Snyder ended the game with him instead of Royce O’Neale. It was different.
It was the bench unit that led Utah to victory Sunday with the Jazz reserves outscoring the Suns bench 43-11.
“I think those two wins set the tone for us and for the second half of the season,” Clarkson said.
A second half that suddenly gives the impression that it will be different.