"He's the luckiest man in the world, I'll tell you that" - LeBron James at the Championship Parade on Dahntay Jones.
Rewind to April 13th. It's the last day of the regular season and the Cavaliers had just clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing them home court advantage throughout the East playoffs. This gave the team the luxury of resting players on the final night of the season. The Cavs were without LeBron, Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Love, and Mo Williams. Tristan Thompson was only going to play one minute in order to extend his consecutive games played streak and check out of the game after that. Matthew Dellavedova ended up playing only 6 minutes. So the team needed an extra body and Jones was signed. And if Jones just rode the pine for the playoff run, contributing as a veteran presence in the locker room and on the practice court, that would've been enough to count his season with the Cavaliers as a success.
Then the Cavaliers caught absolute fire against the Atlanta Hawks, knocking down an NBA record 25 threes in Game 2, and Jones was the one who hit the record breaking three, No. 24 of the night. So if that ended up being Jones' only contribution to the Cavaliers' Championship run, that would have been plenty, something to remember Dahntay by, and forever cement Jones in the record books.
A few weeks later, the Cavaliers found themselves down 2-0 against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. A day after the Cavaliers went down 0-2, I got a text from my friend Kevin Weiss who I often text with about the Cavs. He thought they should put Jones into the rotation. He said, "He's athletic, tough and can hit an open shot. He can defend......Might as well use him." Kevin is very knowledgeable about basketball but I thought he was out of his mind. This was the definition of grasping for straws. Down 0-2 to the best regular season team in NBA history and the dude to save the Cavs should be a guy who played 0 meaningful minutes all season and was in the NBA for only 1 day? This was nuts. Kevin had previously worked with Duke basketball at a summer camp and so I thought he was just being a Duke homer and I dismissed it. He also texted me that Mike Krzyzewski once told him that Jones was, "One of the toughest players he's ever coached."
Fast forward to Game 6. The Cavaliers were off to a scorching start, similar to Game 3 at the Q. They got the lead up to 22 at one point. But the Warriors continued to whittle away at the lead. They had cut it to eight. With just over two minutes left before halftime and the lead back up to 16, Richard Jefferson picked up his third foul and joined JR Smith and Shumpert on the bench with three fouls each. Watching the game, my first thought was the text message Kevin sent me. And Ty Lue was on the exact same page. Jones got into the game and the Warriors scored five straight to cut the lead to 11. The crowd was getting nervous. One possession later, Jones received a pass from LeBron in the paint and finished a little floater and picked up Draymond Green's second foul. Jones knocked down the free throw. Lead extended to 14. The next possession, following a Klay Thompson missed jumper, Jones got into position to box out Draymond and Draymond fought him off. Third foul on Draymond. Jones nailed two more free throws and the Cavs extended their lead to 16 before half. The Cavaliers won Game 6 by a score of 115-101. Then they won Game 7 and the title.
Jones never got into the rotation consistently but those two plays he made contributed to the Game 6 victory. It's hard to look something like this up, but I highly doubt anyone in NBA history had ever played fewer regular season minutes for a team and then actually contributed positively in an NBA Finals game. Yes, Dahntay is lucky for being along for this ride like LeBron suggested. We're all lucky that we got to be along for the ride. But contributing like Jones did? That's professionalism and toughness and always staying ready.