Moon's game in orbit now
CLEVELAND -- Be honest. While watching Jamario Moon shoot down the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, you thought to yourself, "Wow, this guy's got some potential. He's long, he's athletic and he can shoot 3s?! He's gonna be nice someday.''
What you didn't know was that Moon will be 30 years old in less than two months.
Unless you're an avid follower of the NBA, you probably thought Moon, who made four crucial 3-pointers in Cleveland's 112-102 victory over the Bulls, was a young up-and-comer. After all, he's in only his third NBA season.
But the 6-foot-8 Moon is far from a neophyte trying to find his way in this world. Heck, he's seen parts of this world that hardly anyone besides a journeyman hooper with dreams of making it big has seen.
Moon's résumé reads like something out of "Gunsmoke." While working his way through the USBL, the CBA, the ABA and the NBA D-League, he's had stops in Mobile and Huntsville, Ala.; Dodge City, Kan.; Louisville, Ky.; Rockford, Ill.; Enid, Okla.; Marietta, Ga.; Fort Worth, Texas; Gary, Ind.; and Albany, N.Y. And that's not even to mention his stints in Rome and Mexico or with the Harlem Globetrotters.
But that's about what you'd expect from a guy who went undrafted out of Mississippi's Meridian Community College before eventually landing with Toronto in 2007, Miami a year later, and finally Cleveland.
What you wouldn't expect is for this ex-minor leaguer to foil every would-be rally by the upstart Bulls in Game 2. First, he started a 9-0 Cavs run that would eventually put them up by 10 with a 3-pointer at the 2:12 mark of the first quarter.
He was rewarded with more time on the bench. Such is life for a ninth man. When the fourth quarter began with the clubs knotted 77-77, Moon had played less than eight minutes.
But when Cavs coach Mike Brown called on him to start the fourth, Moon was ready. He put the Cavs ahead 85-80 with a 3-pointer early in the quarter. Two minutes later, he rose like his more famous teammate, LeBron James, to reject a shot by Joakim Noah. Then, he drained another 3 to push the Cavs' lead to six midway through the period.
Moon had it going so well that Brown played him the entire quarter. It was a decision he wouldn't regret, as Moon would sink another triple and wind up with nine of his 12 points, two of his three rebounds, and one of his two blocks in the fourth.
"There are going to be certain guys that come in and make a difference,'' said starting forward Antawn Jamison, who ended up sitting late because of Moon's strong play. "He came in and not only shot the ball well, but defensively he did an awesome job rebounding the ball. He was a difference-maker. Coach always says, 'You have to be ready because you never know when your opportunity is going to come.' He did an awesome job of knocking down shots when we needed him."
When the Cavs signed Moon last summer, they did so mainly because of his defense. Quick, rangy and a great leaper, Moon was just what they'd need to counter the tall outside shooters of Orlando who did them in during last year's Eastern Conference finals. While Moon has been a decent 3-pointer shooter (he shot 32 percent from the arc this season), four out of five 3s in a playoff game was beyond anyone's expectation. Counting the Cavs' last three regular-season games, in which Moon saw extended playing time while James rested, Moon has made 11 of his last 18 3-point attempts (61 percent).
"After that second one, it felt like I was throwing the ball into the ocean,'' said Moon, who averaged 5.0 points in 17 minutes a game during the regular season. "It's about being confident and being ready to shoot the basketball. My teammates kept believing in me and I kept believing in my shot, and I was knocking them down.''
Moon's belief in himself was critical to his six-year march through the minors. Asked after Game 2 if this was the greatest moment of his basketball life, he said:
"No question. For what it means to me to come out and do for my team what I did tonight, it's great. I don't want to say it's the icing on the cake because it's not the last game of the season, but it felt great.''
Maybe Moon will come through on an even bigger stage as the postseason goes on. After all, five years ago, who would've thought he'd play such a key role in an NBA playoff game, period.