Jazz: Gaines reigns
No matter that Deron Williams played just 18 minutes in the first three quarters on account of foul trouble, then left for good just 37 seconds into the fourth quarter after reinjuring the wrist he sprained and bruised last week.
No matter that Andrei Kirilenko was lost to a hyperextended right knee midway through the third quarter. Or that the Jazz fell behind LeBron James and the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers by 12 points at the start of the second half.
Or that the Jazz managed 55 points through three quarters on 32.3 percent shooting, with Carlos Boozer struggling against his former team. The Jazz, it turned out, had the Cavaliers right where they wanted them in the final period.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the Jazz lost their grip on what appeared to be a certain victory, with fans in courtside seats bowing to James. But D-League guard Sundiata Gaines rescued the Jazz with an improbable three-pointer as time expired.
Gaines' three-pointer over Anthony Parker gave the Jazz a 97-96 victory over the Cavaliers on a night James scored 36 points. Gaines celebrated from the top of the scorer's table.
The Cavaliers took advantage of two missed free throws by Ronnie Brewer to close within 84-82 with 2:16 remaining as James drove on Wesley Matthews and scored as part of a three-point play in traffic.
Matthews drove and was fouled by Anthony Parker at the other end. He made just 1 of 2 free throws to leave the Jazz clinging to a three-point lead. James tried to create but ended up giving up the ball to Parker, who missed a three-pointer.
The Jazz couldn't take advantage as Carlos Boozer shoved James on an offensive foul. James barreled into the lane, drew a foul on Matthews and appeared to turn his ankle on the play. But he came back from a timeout with 1:15 to play and made his first free throw.
James missed the second but Anderson Varejao battled the rebound away from Boozer and back out to James, who took a step back and connected a three-pointer to give the Cavaliers an improbable 86-85 lead.
At the other end, Ronnie Price had his pass deflected by Mo Williams for a steal and James proceeded to bury a fadeaway three-pointer over Wesley Matthews with 40.2 seconds left to give the Cavaliers an 89-85 lead.
Price got tripped up on the ensuing play and C.J. Miles missed a three-pointer with 33.9 seconds to play. James went to the line for two more free throws to give Cleveland a 91-85 lead.
Parker made just 1 of 2 free throws with 15.1 seconds left to leave the Jazz with a final chance trailing 95-92. Price missed on a drive but Kyle Korver hit a tough jumper on the baseline over Jawad Willaims with 5.9 seconds left to bring the Jazz within a point.
The Cavaliers inbounded to Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the Jazz fouled him immediately. A 76.7 percent foul shooter, Ilgauskas missed his first free throw before sinking the second, making it 96-94 with 5.6 seconds remaining.
The Jazz inbounded to Kyle Korver, who went nowhere before getting it to Price, who looked to Gaines for the final shot.
James had averaged 30.2 points in 13 games against the Jazz, his highest career scoring average against any team. In fact, the only player to own a higher career average against the Jazz is Michael Jordan at 32.7 points.
Williams came back to start the fourth quarter but left for the locker room with 11:23 remaining and didn't return. He tripped up Mo Williams, picked up his fifth foul and landed on the right wrist he injured Jan. 4 against New Orleans and has been playing through since.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan brought in Gaines for Williams. Gaines was playing in just his fifth game after being signed to a 10-day contract out of the NBA Development League's Idaho Stampede last week, yet shined in the TNT spotlight.