Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Kelly Olynyk likened it to an NCAA Tournament game. Not in stakes, mind you, just in the improbability of it all.
From buzzer beaters to upsets, March Madness is filled with moments that are hard to believe. So, too, was the ending of Utah's 124-123 victory over Golden State on Wednesday at Vivint Arena.
The Warriors inbounded the ball with 6.9 seconds left in the game up by a point. Five seconds later, Simone Fontecchio slammed home a game-winning bucket.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker swiped the ball from Jordan Poole on the inbound and it bounced to Malik Beasley, who immediately pushed the ball up the court. Beasley hit Fontecchio with a bounce pass in the paint, and the old rookie from Italy finished it off with a dunk.
Game over. Jazz (somehow) win.
"I basically had a two-on-one," said Beasley, who had 18 points and that single assist. "I was waiting for him (the defender) to decide if he was gonna come up to me or stay back, and he came up, so I just made the right play."
Utah scored 5 points in the final eight seconds of game time to pull off the unlikeliest of comebacks; it was just the second time in the last 25 seasons the Jazz have overcome a 4-point deficit in the final 10 seconds of a game.
Fontecchio's big moment was just the end of a bizarre finish where the Jazz probably shouldn't have come away with a win.
Let's start at the 30-second mark; that's when Jordan Clarkson began a drive that would have been the lasting image of Wednesday's game if not for all the craziness that occurred following it.
Clarkson's floater with 24.9 seconds left in the game was blocked and rebounded by Jonathan Kuminga. Clarkson quickly fouled Kuminga, but did so a bit harder than was necessary, and Kuminga took offense, which caused a small dust up where both players appeared to attempt to square up ready for a fight.
In the end, no punches were thrown, but once replay was consulted, Clarkson was given a Flagrant 2 and was ejected from the game. He exited with a team-high 22 points and nine assists.
The call appeared to be the final death blow to the Jazz. It gave the Warriors, who were already up by 2 points, two free throws and the possession with time quickly running low. That's when the NCAA Tournament-esque stuff started to happen.
In the closing 24 seconds, the Warriors missed free throws and coughed up the ball twice immediately after an inbound; that's how a team turns a sure victory into a loss. Klay Thompson coughed up the ball, Poole and Kuminga both split their trip to the free-throw line, and the Warriors left Beasley, a 39% 3-pointer shooter, wide open in the corner.
Golden State gave Utah a chance at a comeback, and the Jazz took it.
With eight seconds remaining in the game, Alexander-Walker broke the paint and, instead of going for an open layup, dished it out to Beasley in the corner to cut the lead to a single point.
"Myself and every other person in the gym thought that he was going to lay it in, and it seemed like everybody on the court sort of froze and he fired it out to Beas," Jazz coach Will Hardy said.
That set up the game's final and bonkers play.
The plan was simple: gamble like crazy on the inbounds pass. There were only a few seconds left, so if they were going for a steal, it had to come immediately. Once Poole got the pass, Alexander-Walker swung down for the ball and the ball broke free.
"Amazing defense by the guys," said Fontecchio, who had a career-high 18 points. "Nickeil got his hands on the ball. It was very, very good to steal that ball."
But was it? The officials had, no doubt, let the two teams play. In the closing minutes, there was a lot of contact that went uncalled — on both teams — and the refs swallowed their whistles on the pivotal play at the end.
Alexander-Walker looked like he got some arm as he swiped the ball away from Poole, Olynyk appeared to kick the ball and then barreled into Poole, kind of like a linebacker making an open-field tackle.
All of that, though, went uncalled.
"There was a lot of no calls; might as well add to them," said an unapologetic Olynyk. "They were letting guys play. Everybody's diving on the floor. It is what it is."
As it was, Fontechhio walked out of Vivint Arena with the game ball and a moment he'll remember forever.
"Just an amazing feeling, and I'm really, really happy and excited the way we got the win," he said.
As for the ball, he has to find a place to put it.
"Somewhere away from my daughter — or maybe I'm just gonna let her play with it," he said.