Wizards

The backstories behind KCP's big shot vs. Jazz

Wizards

Late in the fourth quarter of the Wizards' win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, as Raul Neto and Donovan Mitchell walked to the free throw line for a jumpball with just 15.1 seconds to go, NBC Sports Washington play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher proclaimed on the broadcast what everyone was thinking: "He's a leaper," referring to Mitchell.

Neto was about to encounter one of the NBA's bounciest guards in a crucial jumpball situation. Mitchell, the 2018 NBA Dunk Contest champion, also has unusually long arms for his size with a 6-foot-10 wingspan.

The odds were against Neto, but he overcame those odds. Neto rose up and tapped the ball to his teammate, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who turned around, dribbled to his right and fired a 26-foot three over Joe Ingles to beat the shot clock and put the Wizards up by five points with just 12.4 seconds on the clock.

It turns out there was some important context behind the shot, some stories that came to light in postgame press conferences. For one, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, Mitchell said he was thrown off by the referee talking while throwing the jumpball. The referee, Ben Taylor, told Mitchell afterwards he did that to surprise Neto and Mitchell, to give them both an equal chance at winning.

Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. joked afterwards of the unlikely victory for Neto: "We might let him jump to start the game."

Neto jumped earlier than Mitchell, but Mitchell ended up getting higher. Neto had better timing, though, and got the ball behind him and right to Caldwell-Pope.

 

Caldwell-Pope caught the ball with just 4.1 seconds left on the shot clock, only unbeknownst to him. He needed some help from his teammates.

"When I was lining up, I didn't even check the shot clock at the time. So, when Raul won the jumpball and I caught it, all I heard from the bench was 'butter,' which means late clock. I just turned around, looked at the clock a little bit, got separation and let it fly," Caldwell-Pope said.

The Wizards' bench happened to be on the opposite side of the court. The fact he heard them through the noise of 18,306 Jazz fans in attendance suggests the fans were not as loud as they could have been.

The stars may have aligned for that shot to go in and it was a big one. The Wizards had lost four straight games and were playing on the road against one of the NBA's best teams.

Washington had played its best game in weeks and needed just a few more plays to pull it off.

"Once that one went through, it was a relief. We knew the game was a two-possession game. All we needed was a stop and a rebound," Caldwell-Pope said.

"We knew we had the win and we really wanted this win. We didn't want to go home without the win. We were going to get it by any means."