Utah Jazz notebook: Remembering Sundiata Gaines' big shot one year later
SALT LAKE CITY — Somewhere in Toronto on Friday, Sundiata Gaines had to have cracked a smile while thinking back to what he did one year ago to the day.
Utah Jazz personnel still fondly and vividly recall the former D-Leaguer's clutchness in toppling King James and his then-mighty Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 14, 2010.
Gaines' buzzer-beating shot not only gave the Jazz a 97-96 win to spoil LeBron's huge fourth quarter and Cleveland rally, but it has been played and replayed countless times on YouTube and TV highlights.
Considering the circumstances with James and the background of Gaines' story — an undrafted guard out of Georgia who'd been playing for the Idaho Stampede only a week before hitting the shot of the season — the moment will live in Jazz lore.
With an injured Deron Williams in the locker room and time running out, Ronnie Price dished a pass to Gaines. The Jazz's newest player calmly lined up the shot and let it fly.
Buzzer. Swish. Pandemonium at EnergySolutions Arena!
Next thing fans knew, their extremely secret weapon was celebrating the spine-tingling moment atop the scorers' table.
"It was big. It was real big," said Price, who had the game-winning assist. "You never know what's going to happen in a basketball game. That's the best thing about sports, you just never know what the outcome's going to be, and that was one of those crazy, crazy endings."
Asked about his recollection from that game, Jerry Sloan said without hesitation: "What's the memory? We won. That's all I worry about. That's the most important thing to us."
But even the well-seasoned Jazz coach couldn't help but smile a bit while recalling Gaines' legendary long ball.
"You're always excited to see someone have an opportunity like that," Sloan said, "and then be able to have something positive happen, and he was so excited. ... It was fun to see what happened to him."
Gaines now finds himself on his second NBA team — and third overall — since being released by the Jazz during fall camp. He just signed a 10-day contract this week with the Raptors after playing for about two months in Minnesota.
"We liked him," Sloan said. "I thought he played pretty well for us, but life goes on."
Al Jefferson, who watched the TNT-televised thriller, admitted he was among the millions of people who were introduced to Gaines that night.
"Never heard of him," Jefferson said. "But, hey, that's how you get your name out there."
DEEP THREAT?: Jefferson was on cloud nine as he approached reporters for his post-shootaround interview Friday morning. The reason? The 6-foot-10 big man said he'd just beaten an unnamed rookie in a 3-point-shooting contest.
The ex-Butler star claimed it wasn't him.
So, Jeremy Evans?
The Western Kentucky kid didn't deny the outcome, but jokingly questioned some of Big Al's score-counting tactics.
"He cheated," Evans said, chuckling.
Don't expect Jefferson's long-range expertise to spill over from shootaround into a game anytime soon, though. The only trey he's hit in his career was a buzzer-beating half-court heave in the preseason against Chicago during his Minnesota days.
"It was lucky, too," he admitted.
For the record, Jefferson is 0-for-21 from beyond the arc during his seven-year career. He hasn't attempted one outside of practice this season.
"I'm coach's secret weapon when it comes to 3-point shooting right now," he said. "I'm feeling real confident."
Confident enough to unveil the shot in a Utah uniform?
"Only in practice," he said. "I haven't got it into the games yet, but, hey, I'm his secret weapon in practice."
Evans might beg to differ.
HE'S A LOOKER: Sloan didn't lose a chance for a quip when asked how he thought Mehmet Okur looked after practicing Thursday and playing Wednesday: "I think he looks better. He's much more handsome."
Sloan didn't leave the compliments to Okur's looks, though.
"That's a tough situation to be in. He fought back, has a little setback has another setback," the Jazz coach said, referring to ankle and back injuries that followed Okur's eight-month Achilles rehab. "His attitude and his work ethic's been as good as you'd ask anybody to have."
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