With 22.2 seconds left in the game, Cleveland’s Anthony Parker was at the free throw line with a chance to put the Cavs up four. Instead, he left the first free throw short and left the door open for one of the greatest finishes in Jazz regular season history.
By the time the smoke cleared, Sundiata Gaines had hit a buzzer-beating three pointer to give the Jazz a one-point win, sending what was left of the crowd into absolute delirium. Only slightly less miraculous, if less dramatic, was a circus shot by Kyle Korver, falling away from behind the backboard in the corner.
Adding to the improbability index was the motley lineup at the end of the game. Andrei Kirilenko left the game in the third quarter with a hyperextended knee and didn’t return. Deron Williams left the game in the fourth after bruising his wrist in a collision with Mo Williams. Carlos Boozer sat on the bench after fouling out. Instead, the Jazz took the court for the final play with Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver, CJ Miles, Memo Okur, and the now-famous rookie Sundiata Gaines, fresh off signing his second 10-day contract.
After the game a reporter asked Jerry Sloan “So, does this mean you’re going to sign Gaines to another 10-day contract?” Sloan smiled and said “We’re going to sign him for the whole year.”
So after not playing at all in the first three quarters, Gaines entered the game in the 4th quarter to replace the injured Deron Williams. In 11 minutes of play, he fouled Mo Williams, made an 18-foot jumper, fouled Mo Williams again, stole a pass from Delonte West, assisted on a Boozer layup, drew a foul on Mo Williams as he made a layup of his own and hit the and-1 free throw, picked up a rebound, fouled Jawed Williams, threw the ball away to Jawed Williams, drew a shooting foul on Mo Williams and hit 1-of-2 free throws, left the game for Ronnie Price, re-entered the game for Kyle Korver (who would re-enter himself on the next possession).
Finally, the Jazz had the ball coming out of a time out with one second left on the clock and the Cavaliers holding a 2-point lead. Gaines gets a hurried pass from Ronnie Price with only tenths of seconds remaining and Anthony Parker draped all over him. His momentum from heaving the shot left him on the floor on his back in the first row of seats. The players mobbed him, the crowd went into a stunned celebration, and even coach Sloan admitted afterward that he hasn’t been that excited in a long time
Gaines escaped from the scrum of teammates and then climbed up on the scorer’s table to soak it all in, becoming the first and probably last player to get away with that kind of bravado on Sloan’s watch.
On another note, LeBron James is a man. At one point I found myself thinking “So this is what it feels like to be a witness.” The man is so talented it’s unreal. One way or another the fans were going home with their money’s worth.