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These guys are different: The Jazz are bit more resilient this season


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SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Conley was honest after Thursday's overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans. With how the game went and how well the Pelicans were playing, the Jazz probably shouldn't have won.

But if speaking in truths, that's kind of been Utah's MO this season.

Remember the first game against the Pelicans all the way back in October when Kelly Olynyk beat the buzzer on a flailing drive to the hoop? Yeah, that probably shouldn't have gone Utah's way.

Then there was Lauri Markkanen's late improbable turnaround jumper against Phoenix to help Utah outduel the Suns.

And who could forget the minor miracle against the Golden State Warriors when the Jazz stole the ball late and Simone Fontecchio slammed in the game-winner at the buzzer?

In between all of those were a lot of games the Jazz — now 17-14 after beating the Pelicans (who came to Salt Lake City with the best record in the West) twice in a row — weren't favored to win.

It's been a nice change of pace for fans, for sure. Last season's Jazz team became known for dropping games they had no business losing — consistently surrendering double-digit, second-half leads. That team made it clear that no lead, no matter how large, was safe.

This year's team, it's just the opposite. No matter the opponent or how tough the schedule has been, or how a game seems to be going, the Jazz have found a way to be competitive in just about every game they've stepped on the court. In 31 games, the Jazz haven't been competitive in only one game, and that was in October.

So what's been the secret to game's like Thursday's?

"That's our guys; that's who they are. They have a big chip on their shoulder, and at the same time they really lean on each other," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "They're doing it as a group. It's not one person to lead us or one person to save us. They all just rally around each other and bring their little piece to the game every night."

Sure, Jordan Clarkson (39 points) and Lauri Markkanen (31) both had the big scoring games, but it was little things everywhere else that helped the Jazz pull off the victory.

Rookie center Walker Kessler played nearly 17 straight minutes — he had 13 seconds off the court — in the fourth quarter and overtime. He delivered, among other moments, a key offensive rebounds and putback to push Utah back up by 4 points in overtime.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker helped stymie CJ McCollum in the fourth quarter, and then was asked to go and guard him again on the Pelicans' final possession of regulation. He forced a McCollum miss.

Conley, meanwhile, went 1-for-8 and had 4 points, but he had three assists in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to help push Utah into the lead.

And you can keep going on down the roster.

Add it all up and that's how a 13-point deficit vanished in a matter of minutes, and how a team is able to respond after giving up a game-tying 3-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation.

"That's been our mantra all year, nobody has to do any more than they need to," Hardy said. "We don't need anybody to save us, we just need everybody to do their job."

Clarkson said the never-say-die reputation the team has earned over the first third of the season comes from a sheer will to win, and it truly is a collective effort. On the bench, coaches and players are going over plays and sets in-game, and there's constant communication on how to keep getting better in the latter stages of the contests.

"We all lock in those situations. The communication on the bench is crazy; everybody's talking," Clarkson said. "You got guys coming over with iPads, telling you missed a play or whatever. Just communication down the line I think has just been great with this team. We trust everybody. We just hungry."

And that leads to success in the key moments — even when things appear to breaking the other way.

"We didn't get down when they made a shot or tied the game," Conley said. "In the biggest moments, we made the right decisions and right plays and trusted each other, and that's how you get a win on a night like tonight."

And how they've gotten so many wins this season.

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