SALT LAKE CITY – The stage was all set Saturday night for Jimmer Fredette, in a state where “Jimmermania” had taken hold.
Instead of draining what could have been a game-winning three-pointer for Sacramento with 4.2 seconds left, the former Brigham Young star launched an air ball. The Utah Jazz hung on for a 96-93 win over the Kings to snap a two-game losing streak.
“I’m not going to say whether I got fouled or not,” said Fredette, who ended up on the floor after the miss. “The ball didn’t go in and we lost the game. It was a tough one.”
Gordon Hayward, who scored a season-high 21 points for Utah (11-7), sank a free throw after being fouled away from the ball for the final margin.
While Hayward was all smiles after breaking out of his scoring slump (14 points combined in last three), Fredette continued to ride the rookie rollercoaster.
Last year’s national player of the year finished with 14 points and was 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. But he was just 5 of 13 overall, was swatted by Al Jefferson and rookie Enes Kanter, and had the ball stolen away by Earl Watson, Devin Harris and C.J. Miles, who had a game-high 20 points.
The crowd reaction was as mixed as Fredette’s performance.
He received a standing ovation from many fans during pre-game introductions, with a few scattered boos.
Once the game started, many booed every time he touched the ball. But when he hit his first three-pointer with 1:29 left in the first, fans were on their feet. It was arguably the loudest cheer for an opposing player at the downtown Salt Lake City arena.
Late in the game, they chanted “We Want Jimmer,” and he re-entered.
“They paid to see him play so they wanted him out there,” said Tyreke Evans, who led Sacramento (6-14) with 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting. “He did a great job. He’s getting better and better. I’m happy for him. Hopefully he can continue to play that way.”
Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins added 14 and Isaiah Thomas had 13 off the bench for the Kings, while the Jazz got eight points from their rookie guard, Alec Burks.
The Kings were down 13 points early in the fourth quarter, but Evans and Thomas brought them back.
Evans’ five-footer with 30 seconds left cut the lead to one, and after Devin Harris made just one of two free throws for a 95-93 lead, the Kings had another chance.
“You have a lot of time on the clock and, like I told him in the locker-room, sometimes you don’t need the game-winner,” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said. “Sometimes you may need just a two, especially when the guy is a shooter and guys will run at you hard. But, hey, we have a first-year player in a situation, trying to do the right thing, and it’s a whole different story had he made that shot.
“But it’s something that you learn and grow from here.”
The Jazz were happy to escape with the win, after dropping a double-overtime game against Toronto on Wednesday and losing in Dallas on Friday night.
“We had a 7-0 run or whatever and thought we were going to close them out, but they played tough, they hung around, and it was almost like Toronto all over again,” Hayward said. “It was good we got the win. But we need to be able to close them out.”
Evans made that difficult.
He had the play of the game, a highlight-reel dunk in which he took off from nearly the free-throw line.
He shot 7 of 12 in the second half, including a three-point play that pulled Sacramento within 90-87 with 3:28 left.
But in the end, the ball went to Fredette. Replays show Earl Watson hit his arm, but after the shot was already off.
It wasn’t the ending Fredette had envisioned in an arena where he was 4-1 overall as a collegian, or just a year after he had averaged 28.9 points in guiding the Cougars to a 32-5 mark and a trip to the NCAA round of 16.
“Hopefully I’ll have a lot more (shots to win the game),” said Fredette, who had a chance to see his fiancee while in town. “Hopefully, I’ll make a lot of those. But not everybody makes all the game-winning shots and we realize that. Everybody was encouraging and said it was a good look and just didn’t go down. That happens.”
He said he was grateful for all the fans that did support him, and Jazz players got a kick out of the frenzy for the rookie.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Watson said. “It was like college. I thought I had on a Utah Utes jersey.”
Notes: Former BYU wide receiver Austin Collie, now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, was in attendance Saturday. … Big man Chuck Hayes, who had missed the previous 11 games with a dislocated left shoulder, returned to action Saturday for Sacramento and played 20 minutes but did not score. … Jazz guard Raja Bell left in the second quarter with a strained right adductor and did not return. He finished with three points. … Utah’s top two scorers struggled, with Paul Millsap shooting just 2 of 10 for six points and Jefferson hitting 5 of 13 for 12.