‘You do it, you win’: Utah Jazz’s usual reserves make a point about effort in hard-fought loss to Suns

With the team mired in a poor stretch, and missing all of its starting lineup, the deep reserves come out and make it a shockingly competitive game by simply playing like they cared.

Utah Jazz guard Jared Butler (13) shoots around Phoenix Suns forward Bismack Biyombo (18) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix • When coach Quin Snyder met with the media ahead of the Utah Jazz’s big test du jour against the Suns on Monday, he was asked what he could glean from a game in which his team was missing and/or sitting out all of Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and Joe Ingles.

He had a pretty simple answer.

“You want to compete,” Snyder replied.

And yeah, the players available did that.

In between getting off to a wonky, nervous, breakdown-filled start, and the inevitable wheels-coming-off collapse down the stretch when Chris Paul & Co. did their thing, the Jazz controlled the game. They turned up the defensive intensity and racked up 11 steals. They moved the ball to open shooters and hit open shots. They kept Phoenix off the foul line.

Mostly, they brought a degree of effort and care that’s too often been missing of late.

So while the game will technically go down as a 115-109 defeat, and their eighth loss in their past 10 games, it wasn’t hard to come away from the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix feeling like a point had been made.

“I was pleased with our competitiveness. … That’s something that our team needs to continue to replicate night in and night out,” Snyder said afterward. “That’s something that’s within our control, playing with that level of intensity.”

The guys who brought it on Monday night agreed with that sentiment.

Trent Forrest, who typically doesn’t play more than a few minutes a game, went 36 against Phoenix and shot 8 for 12 in scoring a career-high 17 points. He also added six rebounds and two assists, and made himself a defensive nuisance against the Suns’ high-powered backcourt.

Asked if the game was slowing down for him, he said it was, primarily because he’d followed the advice of his teammates, his coaches, even his mom, in ratcheting up “my aggressiveness defensively.” He added that the team’s performance was “a big confidence boost for everybody. We were on a streak where we weren’t playing good at all.”

Rookie guard Jared Butler, just recalled from his assignment to the G League affiliate Salt Lake City Stars, looked far more comfortable and in control on the court than he has previously, and drilled 3 of 4 tries from beyond the arc en route to 13 points, while also adding four steals.

“With the lineup not really being the normal Jazz, it took the whole team. For the most part, we bought in, we competed at a high level, we had the mental focus, for sure,” he said. “… We didn’t come out there expecting to lose, we didn’t go out there expecting, ‘OK, we’re playing the top team in the West — let’s just lay down and get shots up.’ We came out to win.”

Danuel House, cast off by several teams already this season and now playing his way through his second 10-day contract with the Jazz, racked up 42:38 of court time, and poured in 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks.

And he was positively ebullient about what the Jazz can do if they can find a way to bottle all of Monday’s energy and effort and have all the missing regulars drink it up going forward.

“This thing has a really good chance to be extremely phenomenal. Once the pieces fall into place, I’m really going to be excited to see it,” said House. “… The guys that played today are [in and out of the rotation], but for them to take the No. 1 team in the Western Conference and have a dog fight, it shows you how much toughness this team has. Of course, we’re not the starters, so just imagine if we are fully healthy and everybody’s come back. I feel like this team can do a lot of things.”

They can — if what happens Monday becomes contagious.

Snyder, asked about what he saw from House, uttered an assessment that was praiseworthy of the individual specifically and could be viewed as more of a damning indictment collectively: “Playing hard is as much of a skill as anything else.”

He noted that these players made some mistakes, had some errors, didn’t always do the right thing. But their effort, their capacity to just forget about the coverages, forget about the schemes, and to just go out there and play hard ultimately made things work. Until Chris Paul made them not, anyway.

The point is, the Jazz need this. More often. All the time, even. Now, the question becomes, how do they keep that competitiveness going?

Once again, Snyder had a straightforward answer.

“Do it. Just do it. At some point, it’s, ‘Do it.’ You do it, you win; you don’t, you lose,” he said, standing up suddenly from the table in the interview room and striding purposefully toward the exit. “I thought that was a pretty good wrap-up.”