'It feels different': The Jazz's evolution continues with win over league-leading Suns

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PHOENIX — Donovan Mitchell said it felt different.

He said it the tunnels after the game; he said it in his postgame 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 biggest thing."

After Sunday's 118-114 win over the Phoenix Suns, the Jazz have strung together two straight high-quality wins to begin post-All-Star break play. And, yeah, it feels different.

The Jazz team that has struggled in the clutch this season suddenly won two close games against superstars of the NBA.

The Jazz team that had been searching for signature wins is suddenly picking them up at a frequent pace.

What about the Jazz team that was searching for an identity? Maybe — just maybe — they've found one.

"It's taken us a while to evolve, kind of sculpt a different identity with different players and so to have games like this — tough games, close games, against teams that are really, really good, really disciplined, play defense, is something that can help us," coach Quin Snyder said.

Mitchell drove to his right and stepped back before putting 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 up something.

A few moments later, he was skipping down the court after his 3-pointer had inexplicably banked in.

Mitchell's shot with 1:51 to go put the Jazz up 10 and helped Utah secure the victory — a couple minutes later, it proved to be the game winner. An 8-1 Phoenix run made it a one-possession game and the Jazz only could breathe easily after former Jazzman Jae Crowder threw the ball out of bounds in the closing seconds.

"I didn't plan on using the glass but the angle, I kind of got farther than I wanted to," Mitchell said of his late 3-pointer. "My only option was to use the backboard."

That play encapsulated Utah's recent stretch where the Jazz rolled off eight wins in nine games. Things haven't gone to script this season — a majority of the team coming back hasn't equaled the same regular season success — but over the last few weeks the Jazz have made it work.

Sunday was the latest example.

Utah got a customary big performance from Mitchell — 26 points and five assists – but it was some other performances that really pushed the Jazz over the top against Phoenix.

After a bit of an unfocused first half, Jordan Clarkson was a revelation after halftime. He scored 16 of his 22 points after the break, but it was more than just good shooting. With 4:37 left in the game, Clarkson drove to the rim. Of course, he was looking to score — it's rare the reigning Sixth Man of the Year isn't. But his shot wasn't there and the Suns had collapsed from the corner leaving Danuel House Jr. wide open.

Clarkson kicked it out to House, who buried the 3-pointer — one of two late 3s from House that helped Utah hold off the Suns.

Clarkson admitted he may not have made that play, or others like it, earlier in the season. But, like the team, he's evolved.

"Those plays, I gotta keep continuing to make," Clarkson said. "... (It's) just growth, study, time we're putting in, the coaching staff bringing it to my attention."

As for House, he may have been the story of the game. House did so well navigating screens and staying in front of Devin Booker that Snyder finished the game with him instead of Royce O'Neale. That was different.

It was the bench unit that led Utah to victory on Sunday with the Jazz reserves outscoring the Suns' bench 43-11.

"I think these two wins are just kind of setting the tone for us and the second half of the season," Clarkson said.

A second half that suddenly feels like it'll be different.


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