PHOENIX — Too many times over the last few weeks the Utah Jazz have been a team that either loses due to a lack of effort and intensity or a team that wins despite lacking in those areas.

The Jazz starters have often lamented in their postgame interviews that they don’t know what needs to be done in order to flip the proverbial switch that would make them play with the grit necessary to be the type of team they want to be.

Then, on Monday night, against the league-leading Phoenix Suns, the Jazz didn’t have any of the star power that would ordinarily give them a fighting chance against any of the other 29 teams in the league. 

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No Donovan Mitchell, no Rudy Gobert, no Mike Conley, no Royce O’Neale, no Bojan Bogdanovic, and no Joe Ingles.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder said that despite the skeleton crew, he wanted his team to compete — he wanted them to fight.

“Playing hard is as much of a skill as anything else. I think that’s something that our team needs to continue to replicate, and that’s something that’s within our control — playing with that level of intensity.” — Jazz coach Quin Snyder

Well, the ragtag squad, highlighted by two-way guard Trent Forrest, rookie Jared Butler and 10-day contract player Danuel House, proved that it’s not about experience or star power. They fought the West’s No. 1 seed with the kind of determination Jazz fans have been salivating for and forced the Suns into a situation where they needed 33 points from Devin Booker and some fourth-quarter heroics from Chris Paul in order to come away with a 115-111 win.

“Playing hard is as much of a skill as anything else,” Snyder said after the game. “I think that’s something that our team needs to continue to replicate, and that’s something that’s within our control — playing with that level of intensity.”

The subtext there is that the Jazz’s rarely used, end-of-bench players were able to fight and battle and put their all into the game and even though they ultimately fell short, it never felt like they weren’t trying (save some questionable minutes from Hassan Whiteside). If the Jazz’s JV squad can bring that type of energy to a game, there’s no reason the Jazz’s starters, which include three All-Stars and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, can’t also bring the same fight to a game.

“Forget the coverage, forget the schemes, you just compete and talk and we can make things work,” Snyder said. “That’s what our guys did tonight.”  

Phoenix Suns guard Elfrid Payton drives against Jazz guard Jared Butler Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Phoenix. The first-year pro was among the Jazz reserves who showed grit and fight during game against the Suns. | Matt York, Associated Press

It was certainly a different vibe in the interview room after the game than it has been in recent weeks. Rather than hearing the Jazz wonder out loud why they aren’t communicating and why they didn’t play with an edge until their backs were against the wall, the Jazz — despite the loss — were proud.

“With the lineup and it not being like the normal Jazz, it took the whole team,” Butler said. “I think for the most part we brought our energy, we competed at a high level, we had the mental focus. … Like a few plays were the difference between us winning or losing and you can credit that to mental toughness.”

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Even Mitchell, who was watching the game from Salt Lake City as he recovers from a concussion, sent out a tweet during the game that read “love the fight,” in all capital letters.

Snyder has said time and again that when it’s time to play postseason basketball, no matter where the Jazz are in the standings, he wants his team to be playing the best version of Jazz basketball.

If that means that the Jazz rack up a few more losses but they come away from a game feeling like they left everything on the court, then so be it. If they come away with more wins because they brought the energy of a fighting team and stuck to their game plans, even better.

But losing games and feeling like they could have done more and should have done better isn’t going to cut it. The Jazz’s seldom used, end-of-bench players unwittingly sent a message on Monday night: If we can do it, why can’t you?

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