SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell may have said it best: “I was so confused today.”
Not a lot about what happened on Monday during Utah’s 125-92 rout of the Suns was normal.
In fact, it got so strange at the end, that you couldn’t help but laugh. And then laugh some more.
There was Devin Booker checking back in late to try and reach 60 points. There was the Jazz intentionally fouling De'anthony Melton on the Suns’ final possession to keep Booker from doing just that. Oh, and someone by the name of Jimmer Fredette helped turn the game into somewhat of a spectacle — especially in the fourth quarter.
It was a fun, weird night that resulted in what was likely the most entertaining 33-point blowout you have ever seen. And most of what made things fun was the return of Fredette, the former BYU star and 2011 national collegiate player of the year.
As Fredette checked in at the beginning of the second quarter, he heard a familiar sound: thunderous applause. Most of the sold-out crowd rose and gave him a loud ovation. That response in itself wasn’t all that strange given the celebrity status he had while at BYU. But by the end of the game, the outpouring of love for the former Cougar had reached a whole new level.
Each time Fredette touched the ball, there were cheers as the crowd urged him to shoot, and he often obliged. With the Suns down big, it became the Jimmer Show; or at least Fredette tried to turn it into the Jimmer Show. He just didn’t have too much success on Monday.
Fredette missed his first nine shots of the game; and with each miss, the groans grew louder and the anticipation to cheer built and built.
The Jazz opened up the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 23 points; and so for the crowd, the only bit of intrigue left in the game was what Fredette was going to do. The fans wanted to see Fredette score, and they wanted to see it really, really bad. Fredette finished with 6 points on 1-of-10 shooting.
“It just shows the passion from the fans in Utah,” Mitchell said. “I told Ricky (Rubio), ‘This man played college basketball. He didn't do anything else but play college basketball and they love him.’ That’s awesome. That’s awesome for him and for all the fans to be able to see him.”
When Fredette finally made a shot — a hanging mid-range banker — the crowd erupted with what may have been the loudest cheer of the night.
“Oh man,” Kyle Korver said. “A lot of love. Good for him. He’s got such a story. His basketball story is filled with ups and downs. ... I respect that he keeps battling and it’s good to see him back out there again.”
Korver said that he had never heard an opposing player get the kind of reception from a crowd that Fredette did on Monday.
“He’s going to have fans here for generations,” Korver said.
The fans also cheered for their beloved Jazz plenty, too. Rudy Gobert had a season-high 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting and also set the NBA single-season dunk record with six dunks on the night. He now has 275 for the season.
Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors both finished with 18 points and Joe Ingles had 14 — which included a one-handed breakaway slam to the delight of the home crowd — as the Jazz took advantage of poor Suns defense. Utah shot 55.8 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from 3-point range. Utah improved to 44-30 on the season.
And Fredette wasn’t the only Suns player the Jazz fans applauded for, either. When Booker went to the bench with 5:12 remaining in the game, the Utah crowd gave him a nice round of applause. He had already scored 55 points in a fantastic offensive performance. He scored on slick drives, step-back 3-pointers and fadeaway baseline jumpers. He did it all.
And the Jazz crowd respected the effort — especially since it didn’t hurt their team’s chances of winning too much. They also didn’t think they would see him again.
But with 2:57 left and the Suns down by 31 points, Booker came back in. He wanted more points. With 19 seconds remaining, Booker had reached 59 points, but the Jazz opted to put Melton on the line instead of letting him shoot to go over the 60-point mark — putting a capper to a strange, strange night.