As Jimmer Fredette played through the Jazz-Kings game at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday night, he heard a lot of cheers and a few boos. It was a little weird for him, being back in Utah again. This time, for a team almost everybody in the building wanted to see lose. And based on the Kings’ record and awful performances of late, there was a decent chance that would happen.
What he didn’t know until the end was this: He could have changed the outcome and won the game. All he had to do was hit an open 3-point shot with a few scant seconds left, the Jazz up by two. Instead, he air-balled his attempt, and the game ended, after an additional free throw, 96-93.
“We were in a position to win,” he said, afterward. “That’s all you can ask for.”
No. You can ask to make the shot for a dream return to the state where you made your name in college, and prove to everybody here that you can pull off the same ridiculous magic you pulled for four years at BYU.
It didn’t happen.
“Hopefully,” he said, “I’ll have a lot more of those. ... It just didn’t go down.”
Jimmer didn’t want to say it, so he did not, but ... he thought he was fouled on that last shot.
“Possibly contact, maybe not,” he said. “The ball didn’t go in.”
Three other Fredette 3s, out of five tries, did go in, and every time the crowd erupted with applause, with a few jeers mixed in.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Earl Watson. “It was like college. I thought I had on a Utah Utes jersey. It was like Utes vs. BYU. I was back in college. I want a per diem check.”
Added Alec Burks: “I have never seen anything like that. That’s crazy the way he gets that recognition. I thought Jay-Z or someone had walked up, but it was just Jimmer. So, it’s crazy.”
Jimmer, this crowd wanted to see win, even as the Kings as a whole sank into the deep aboard their badly listing ship. That last Fredette shot put a lot of people in a tough spot.
Most were conflicted, but happy to take the Jazz win.
Even Karl Malone, an avid Fredette fan who was in town this weekend, said: “I love the kid.”
A lot of people around here love the kid. Had BYU not concurrently been playing West Coast Conference foe St. Mary’s at the Marriott Center, all the seats at ESA would have been filled.
Fredette’s showing was mixed. He made five of 13 shots, including the 3-for-5 performance from beyond the arc, for 14 points. Some of his attempts were ugly and wild, some were dead on. He had three turnovers and only one assist, and the big miss at game’s end.
The rookie is obviously enduring a learning process. After a rough launch to his first NBA season, an early stretch during which he struggled to find not only his trademark range, but also his place on a crappy team made worse by a coaching change and an abundance of selfishness, the guard has started to come on.
Before Saturday night, over the past three games, Fredette averaged 17 points, and lit teams up from beyond the arc, making better than 60 percent of his deep attempts.
“I’m feeling more comfortable,” he said. “I’ll continue to get better.”
As he’s gotten more opportunities with Marcus Thornton hurt, Fredette looks a lot like he did early in his time at BYU, when he was adjusting to a new level of play from his high school days of scoring 29 points a game. After doing what he eventually did with the Cougars, again going for 29 a game, he’s recalibrating with the Kings, feeling his way through a new experience, finding a way to survive and thrive in a new — and, for him, not always productive — environment.
There will be a lot more losing for the Kings this season. With his high profile, even as a rookie, Fredette will have to shoulder some of the blame. He did after the loss to the Jazz.
If he toughs that out, and remains strong-minded, and learns his lessons, learns to come off screens better, learns when to take guys off the dribble, learns to play a bit more defense, he’ll stay afloat.
Even if the Kings do not.
“I just want to win the game,” he said. “It didn’t happen tonight.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.