Utah Jazz: The shot of a lifetime for Gaines
It was close to 1:45 a.m. Friday in New York when Pat Gaines started to cry the happiest tears she'd ever known. She could thank her son Sundiata, who managed to hit the shot of a lifetime just five games into his NBA career with the Jazz.
"I couldn't find words at first last night, I was just so welled up and filled up," she recalled. "I said, 'This is so great.' It's just something he's worked so hard for. And, you know, moms cry. That's what moms do. They cry when they're happy for their child."
With the Jazz in need of a third point guard, Gaines arrived in Utah earlier this month on a 10-day contract, called up from Idaho of the NBA Development League. After his shot Thursday, Gaines now has authored of one of the signature moments in franchise history.
He connected on a three-pointer at the buzzer off a broken play and over Anthony Parker as the Jazz overcame a six-point deficit in the final 30 seconds to stun LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the first three-pointer of Gaines' career and just his 16th shot overall.
"One shot really don't make you as a player," Gaines said Friday. "That definitely helped me out as far as my perception with the fans and the organization, but I think you've got to continue on. The thing about good players is they're consistent at what they do."
"I was thrilled to death," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added. "That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing for just about anybody. There aren't a lot of Michael Jordans around and LeBron Jameses that get that opportunity every night to make big, great plays."
Not even two weeks ago, Gaines was playing in Boise and making $19,000 in the D-League. He went undrafted out of college at Georgia, spent last season in Italy and officially became an overnight sensation thanks to one staggering shot.
That it happened against James and the Cavaliers only made it sweeter. "I liked seeing his face," Gaines said of James, the league's reigning MVP. "I didn't like the face he made after he hit that three."
Gaines was back on the practice court Friday, with the Jazz having signed him to a second 10-day contract, a possible prelude to keeping him for the rest of the season. Gaines did manage some sleep, but admitted he was getting through the day on adrenaline.
Nearly 2,000 miles away in Jamaica, Queens, Gaines' mother said the same. A retired bank worker, Pat Gaines watched Thursday's game at home with her husband, Ronnie. She stayed glued to the television, even after her son went to the bench with 2:04 left.
For whatever reason, Pat Gaines had a suspicion he'd get back in the game. Sure enough, Sloan called for Gaines (nicknamed "Yatta") with 5.9 seconds remaining, first with the Jazz needing to stop the clock with a foul, then keeping him in for the final play.
"I don't know how that happens, but I said to everyone who was listening, 'That ball was meant for him,'" Pat Gaines said.
She was on the phone with Sundiata's brother -- who works as a fireman -- and sister as her son hit the shot, living and dying seemingly by the second.
"We've seen him make that shot a few times in Georgia," she said. "We knew he was capable of making it, and then I saw it go in, I was like, 'Oh, no, I don't believe it.' "
She finally fell asleep around 3:30 a.m., then got dressed Friday morning with two televisions showing the endless replays on ESPN. Pat Gaines visited her daughter's work, where they got to relive the moment all over again.
Not knowing how long Gaines would stick with the Jazz, his mother cautioned friends and family from buying the NBA's League Pass television package. They all did so any way, with Pat Gaines crediting community support for her son's success.
"We tell them all, 'We are all in the NBA. Not just Yatta. Understand. We are all in the NBA, because we all hung in there with him together before he made the NBA,' " she said.
Since signing the 10-day contract, Gaines has been staying at a hotel and getting to know his way around Salt Lake City. He needed a ride home from Thursday's shootaround from Kosta Koufos, but has since gotten a rental car.
"I do have a rental car for now, at least for another 10 days," Gaines joked. "We'll see how good that goes. If it goes real good, I'll ship my car from New York then."
His Jazz teammates are still getting to know him -- Kyle Korver and Ronnie Price both described Gaines as quiet -- but he has made an impression on Sloan.
"He's just tried to do what he's been told," Sloan said, "and some people want to do what they want to do and it's not about the team. It's just, 'Let me show you what I can do.'"
Gaines' miracle three-pointer helped the Jazz win a game they finished without Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko -- both of whom left with injuries in the second half -- as well as Carlos Boozer, who fouled out with 32.5 seconds left.
The Jazz blew a 13-point lead in the final 41/2 minutes, survived an onslaught in which James buried two improbable three-pointers -- first off his own missed free throw, second on a fadeaway over Wesley Matthews -- and outscored Cleveland 12-5 to the finish.
"People left the arena, thought it was over with," Price said. "But I think we showed a lot of character last night as a team the way we stayed with the game and kept fighting."
Back in New York, Jack Curran was asleep when Gaines' shot sailed in. Curran was Gaines' high school coach at Archbishop Molloy, where he has coached since 1958 and helped produce players including Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith.
"This is just a result of his working hard and not giving up," Curran said. "Persistence gets it done sometimes."
Before arriving in Utah, Gaines stopped first in Idaho, where he played for Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon. His stayed last just 14 games, but Gaines showed confidence in himself and a desire to prove himself at the next level, MacKinnon said.
MacKinnon watched Gaines' shot live on TNT and then another 15 times on replay. He sent him a text message after the game and got one back in response. There are no illusions now that Gaines will be back in the D-League after what happened Thursday.
"I hope not," MacKinnon said. "That's what's supposed to happen, and when it happens for one guy in the league, other guys start to get noticed. There are other players you hope just as much will get a look."
Charles Barkley might not have known Gaines' name before the shot, but he sang the rookie's praises afterward on TNT's studio show.
"I think about Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, everybody else," Barkley said. "There are very few guys who have hit shots like that to actually win the game.
"You make plays along the way, but I don't remember if I ever actually hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer like that. That is a wonderful moment, especially for a kid who just got to the NBA. That's just great."
» Two weeks ago, Sundiata Gaines was playing in Boise and making $19,000 in the D-League.
» Not knowing how long Gaines would stick with the Jazz, his mother cautioned friends and family from buying the NBA's League Pass television package.
|U of Georgia||2007-08||14.8|
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