The date is January 14th. The year is 2010. The 30-10 Cleveland Cavaliers and the 21-17 Utah Jazz are doing battle in a game that’s being broadcasted nationally on TNT. The final possession of the game was something that we’d never forget as basketball fans.
Sundiata Gaines, a terrific D-League player, was on the last day of the 10-day deal he signed with the Jazz. On the final possession of the game with the team trailing by two, he took a pass from Ronnie Price and fired up a three.
The shot wound up being nothing but net, and it gave Utah a one-point win on their home floor. The bucket kept him in the league for the rest of the year, and gave him validation, showing he belonged in the NBA.
In this week’s Flashback Friday, we look back at Gaines’ shot, and the circumstances that allowed him to have the attempt.
A Low-Scoring Affair Through Three Quarters
The Cavs and Jazz were playing a pretty unexciting game through the first 36 minutes. Those who love defense and sloppy basketball were having a lot of fun. The scoreboard ruled in favor of Cleveland, 60-55 as the game went into the fourth quarter. Nobody could hit the broadside of a barn.
Believe it or not, only one player scored in double-digits in the first half. And it was Delonte West, leading the way with 11 points. He didn’t even get a single point in the second-half, playing a pretty empty 9:49. Deron Williams was in foul trouble, logging just 12 minutes for Utah, which didn’t really help matters.
Mehmet Okur caught fire in the third, scoring eight points, though Utah as a team scored just 15. They did hold Cleveland to just 13, though. So, the game was low-scoring and unexciting as the fourth began. Sundiata Gaines had not yet logged a minute to this point.
Leading Up to the Shot
The fourth quarter was full of players committing far too many fouls, and nobody was exempt. 40 three throws were taken in the fourth quarter, each team logging 20 attempts. Most impressive for either side up until the final few seconds, was that LeBron managed 20 points (6-7 FG, 3-3 3PT, 5-6 FT) during the final frame in just eight minutes.
Carlos Boozer led the Jazz in that fourth quarter with 11 points, before fouling out with 32 seconds to go in the game. Deron Williams picked up a fifth foul early on, leading Sundiata Gaines to his first appearance. Within a minute of checking in, Gaines scored his first field goal. Perhaps, he’d get an opportunity for some extended run.
It’s also very important to note that Utah was not playing well. They were trailing 83-71 with just 3:34 left. A win seemed very unlikely at this point. With 2:04 left in the contest, Utah had continued to get to the FT line with frequency, cutting the deficit to three. And at this point, Gaines exited.
Utah managed to take a lead, but LeBron hit back-to-back threes to get the Cavs back up by four. They had a six-point lead with 32 seconds left. Could they hold on?
Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap all hit huge shots for the Jazz over the next four possessions. And in that time, the Cavs went 3-6 at the FT line. Anthony Parker missed twice, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed once. Prior to the Ilgauskas attempts, Gaines returned to the game. Surprisingly, he replaced Korver.
Sundiata Gaines and The Shot Itself
As the Jazz called a timeout to set up their final shot, they did so knowing that Deron Williams wouldn’t be on the floor. So, who would get the opportunity to launch this last attempt?
The ball was inbounded by CJ Miles, who got it to Korver, now back in the game. At the top of the key with little room to work with, he passed to Ronnie Price. And what Price did next is what helped to free Gaines up to be the hero. He spun away from his defender, as Anderson Varejao went to come with the double-team. Gaines had a few inches of room next to him, so he received the pass.
With a shade under two seconds on the clock, he let it rip and it was nothing but net. Right at the end of his 10-day contract, and Sundiata Gaines just made a game-winning three on National TV. After sinking the shot and being mobbed by his teammates, he stepped on top of the scores table and raised his arms in triumph to the home crowd.
It was an incredible moment for a player that didn’t even see the floor until the fourth quarter began. If Deron Williams wasn’t in foul trouble, Gaines probably never plays. If the Cavs had made just one more free throw, not going a horrid 3-6 in crunch time, that shot would have only tied it. If he didn’t play well after being initially inserted, there is no way Gaines is on the floor at the end.
So many factors went into the rookie hitting the winner. At the end of the day, there was only one headline worthy of that game. And it was as simple as this: Sundiata Gaines for the Win.
I’ve never met anybody named Sundiata in my life. Most of you reading this probably have not either. But this Gaines fella, he had some serious game.
Thank You for Reading
Well, you’ve made it to the end! Thank you for reading. I’ve been enjoying putting these Flashback Friday pieces together in recent weeks, as a nice form reminiscing.
I hope that the nostalgia you were craving could be met by reading this. Plenty more to come. I’m just getting started.