Since the All-Star break two weeks ago, the Jazz have looked a little different. No, I’m not talking about Bojan Bogdanovic’s tan, even though that is looking real nice. Watching the Jazz in the last three games since the ASB, something seems different with the way they are playing.
It was most noticeable in the first game back from the break, a wild game at home against the Mavericks last Friday night, in what made for one of the best games of the year, at least form a fan standpoint. Donovan Mitchell going crazy, Rudy Gobert locking up Luka Doncic multiple times on the perimeter, and some great plays down the stretch in a close game.
Watching this game, you could just tell the Jazz’s level of focus had been elevated. They had a different look in their eyes. After the game, Donovan Mitchell mentioned how bad they wanted that one, and Quin Snyder spoke on it as well.
Quin Snyder: "That was a significant game for us."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) February 26, 2022
So, what makes that game any more significant than any other game the Jazz have had this season? Why would the players want that win more than say, the Lakers game that they blew just before All-Star Weekend? They both count the same. For me, it’s a couple things. This team knows that they have underperformed so far this year. They know what they are capable of. The Mavericks game last week was seen as a standard that they wanted to set for the remainder of the season, or so it seemed. The way the Jazz finished that game was inspiring, and gave hope that this team can show toughness and grit when needed to win close games.
After that, the Jazz took on the best team in the NBA on the road. Even without Chris Paul, the Suns are still an insanely deep and good team. The Jazz went into Phoenix, played another great, tough game, and came out with the W.
Again; toughness, grit, clutch, focus - things we saw in the Suns game that we just haven’t seen from this Jazz team a lot this season. Many have wondered if they have enough toughness to buckle down and get wins in the playoffs. The Jazz demonstrated some pretty insane toughness in both wins against the Mavericks and Suns.
Now, about last night...
Just when we thought the Jazz had turned the corner, they nearly blew another double-digit lead against the worst team in the NBA on the end of a back-to-back. But they didn’t. They came through. YES I KNOW IT WAS UGLY. YES I KNOW IT WAS THE ROCKETS. YES, THEY COULD HAVE MADE IT MUCH EASIER. BUT THEY CAME THROUGH MAN!! Alright enough caps lock, Jae Crowder. But seriously, it really did take toughness to win that game last night. After getting up 18, blowing the lead, heading to overtime, getting down in overtime, and then getting some huge clutch plays from Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley in overtime. They got the first Jazz overtime win since 2018, which is pretty crazy.
Coming out of the All-Star break, the Jazz have put together three pretty tough wins a row, considering everything. Their focus has been better, their defense has been (a little) better. Donovan Mitchell stays slaying. Rudy stays eating up those boards. Mike Conley is getting healthy and increasing his minutes. This team decided that a major trade wasn’t the play a few weeks ago, and they are running it back for the playoffs. If this team stays healthy, and keeps up this level of focus we’ve seen in the past few games, they absolutely have a solid shot and making a Western Conference Finals run. They have it in them, it’s just a matter of everything falling into place, which didn’t happen last year.
The Jazz have a little lull in their schedule with some pretty soft opponents in upcoming games. This is a good opportunity for them to continue to work out the kinks and get everyone primed for a legendary playoff run. We’ll see if they take advantage of it, and if they can maintain this “different” level of focus that we’ve seen the last few games.