Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Golden State coach Steve Kerr didn't know what hit him.
"In my experience, there's one game like this every year where you leave the building saying, 'What just happened?'" Kerr said moments after his team was stunned by the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.
If Kerr, who's been around the league as a player, executive and coach for over three decades, thought that about the end of the game, imagine how Simone Fontecchio felt.
Fontecchio clutched the game ball as he made his way out of the Jazz locker room late Wednesday evening. It was a memento to show that Wednesday wasn't some fever dream; it all really happened. As a soon to be 27-year-old rookie, he had actually delivered the game-winning dunk with less than two seconds remaining in the game.
What just happened? Something Fontecchio never dared to dream up as he bounced around Europe for a decade and waited and hoped for a chance at the NBA. Just getting to the league was a fantasy fulfilled, dunking in a game winner? His dreams never got that far.
"I didn't imagine anything," Fontecchio said. "Just an amazing feeling, and I'm really, really happy and excited the way we got the win."
It made it more special because of what happened 15 seconds prior. Take out the game-winning slam and Fontecchio still would have had his best game of his young NBA career on Wednesday. He scored a career-high 18 points, went 3-of-6 from 3-point range and grabbed three rebounds in just under 20 minutes to play.
"I love 'Tech," fellow rookie Walker Kessler said. "For one, he's got balls, he can shoot the snot out of the ball."
Fontecchio is shooting 41% from 3-point range and gets those looks in a variety of ways. He can come off screens and fire, hit them off the bounce, and, obviously, he's been pretty good at space in the corner. Add to that his feel for the game — on one play in the fourth quarter, he attacked a close out for a left-handed dunk — and he's a pretty solid weapon to have off the bench.
"He's smart and knows what he's doing," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "He reads the game very, very well."
That is why Fontecchio was angry with himself for a decision he made with 16 seconds left in the game. Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk had just ripped the ball away from Golden State's Klay Thompson, which led to a quick transition play that ended with the ball in Fontecchio's hands and a chance to tie the game.
His 3-point attempt, however, was blocked. Thompson had run back and gotten his hands on the ball as it left Fontecchio's hands. The Warriors corralled the rebound, and Utah's last chance looked to be gone.
"I was just mad," Fontecchio said. "I didn't see him coming."
There's been highs and lows for Fontecchio in his first NBA season. There's been nights where he's shot well and nights he left frustrated. There's been games he's played 20 minutes and plenty he hasn't been able to see the court. It's the nature of this Jazz team. There's a lot of role players that can help; not everyone will play — or play well — in every game.
"He continues to work every single day. Another guy that never complains, never asks for more," Hardy said.
Fontecchio admitted it's not always easy to stay positive when the minutes aren't coming. In those times, he just reminds himself of the long journey he took to get to the NBA. Of all the teams that he played on trying to get noticed. Of all the hours he spent working trying to prove he belonged at the highest level.
He never stopped believing then; he didn't stop believing when his late shot was blocked.
"You can't let yourself get down over what happens on the court because it's a game of mistakes," he said. "So everybody makes mistakes, you just gotta stay with it and think about the next play."
For Utah, the next play and plays couldn't have gone any better. And with 1.4 seconds left, Fontecchio got his improbable moment of glory.
"Everybody was so happy for me," Fontecchio said. "This is an amazing group of guys. Everybody takes care of each other, everybody helps each other, and everybody is just ready to lift everybody up. Just a really good moment."