Boban, Ellenson lead Pistons to crazy comeback win at Houston

Boban Marjanovic went off for a career-high 27 points as the Pistons came back to win at Houston
Bill Baptist (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

HOUSTON – With Aron Baynes about 99 percent certain to be elsewhere as a free agent next season, the Pistons already had Boban Marjanovic penciled into their plans. His showing in Friday’s comeback win over Houston might have convinced them to write his name down in indelible ink.

The 7-foot-4 Serbian scored a career-high 27 points and added 12 rebounds as the Pistons erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit and outscored Houston 39-22 to post a 114-109 win.

He scored 17 points in 15 first-half minutes with Andre Drummond in foul trouble and earned the right to finish the game with a unit that consisted of just one starter, Ish Smith. Reggie Bullock and Stan Van Gundy’s two most recent No. 1 draft picks, Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson, completed the unit that carried the Pistons down the stretch, outscoring Houston 25-15 over the final seven minutes after Marjanovic and Ellenson entered the game.

“It was great. We had a bunch of guys out there who really wanted to play,” Van Gundy said. “They weren’t bogged down by the way the season had gone. They had great enthusiasm to play. I don’t care when it is in the year or what the situation is, that’s a big part of this is just having a great enthusiasm to play and those guys really did.”

The Pistons kept their ever-so-faint playoff hopes alive due to Miami’s loss at Toronto, but Van Gundy is committed to getting a head start on 2017-18 over the season’s final three games by giving minutes to three players in particular: Marjanovic, Ellenson and Johnson.

Their play Friday earned them those minutes on merit. Ellenson, making his first career start, posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Johnson added 13 points, four boards and four assists and it was his triple with 32 seconds to play that gave the Pistons a 110-107 lead, then added a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left to put the Pistons ahead by five.

“I think we just played super hard,” Johnson said. “Got a lot of young guys, me and Henry out there, Boban – who hasn’t had many chances this year to play extended minutes – so we’re really, really hungry. We’re just trying to play hard and show everybody that we can play, as well.”

Ellenson had a welcome-to-the-NBA moment early when Ryan Anderson, one of the league’s top stretch fours, drained three triples in the game’s first four minutes as Houston raced to an early double-digit lead. But he never lost his composure and showed off several flashes of the high-ceiling offensive ability that figure to make him a part of the Pistons puzzle next season.

For all of Ellenson’s offensive skills – the shooting range, the ability to put the ball on the floor, the size to finish at the rim – it was a rebound he speared late that perhaps heartened Van Gundy most.

“That was impressive. That’s something that I’ve talked to him about a lot,” Van Gundy said. “We know he’s a good offensive player, good offensive instincts. We know the defense is going to be a little bit of a challenge at times. He’s got to work hard at it. But he’s got to rebound the ball and tonight he did. Pretty good for your first start against a very, very good team and you come away with a win and a double-double. A really good performance.”

Ellenson’s rebound came after Johnson’s triple when James Harden – typically sensational with 33 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists – fired up a 3-pointer to tie. In a crowd, Ellenson came away with the loose ball.

“The most impressive thing I saw out of him today was the rebound at the end,” Johnson said. “We lost a couple of games this season in that same fashion because guys don’t go back and get rebounds, but he snatched it. He had a look on his face like he was ready to play. I was excited for that.”

“We just made winning plays at the end, what we had to do to get the win,” Ellenson said. “Boban making great moves, getting offensive rebounds, put-backs, big-time rebounds. Stanley at the end – as soon as he had the ball, I had a good feeling about it. Who he is, a confident player, and he let that three fly and we got up three. That was huge. We just made winning plays down the stretch and that was fun.”

Johnson scored 10 fourth-quarter points and Marjanovic nine to go with five rebounds after entering the game with seven minutes left.

“I really was surprised that time. ‘You go on the court.’ Wow, I go on the court?” Marjanovic grinned. “Of course, I’m a professional and everybody here like Henry, Stanley, we put our minutes working on the court and we want to improve ourselves and help our starters. We want to jump in and help them as much as possibly we can.”

The chances all three will get to do it with great frequency next season took a pretty good jump forward with their clutch fourth-quarter Friday to win at Houston.

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Sunday night’s 103-90 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum

SLAM DUNK – The first order of business for the Pistons when free agency opens will be taking care of business with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Their situation at shooting guard gets a little complicated, though, with not only Caldwell-Pope an unrestricted free agent but backup Reggie Bullock headed for the same status. If the Pistons don’t come to a quick agreement with Caldwell-Pope, they run some risk of losing Bullock to an offer sheet while the uncertainty of Caldwell-Pope’s contract hangs over their head. Given luxury-tax implications, it might be difficult for the Pistons to keep both players. But Bullock, who drew a rare start, showed his value in the comeback win at Memphis, hitting 4 of 7 3-point shots. Another option at shooting guard, Darrun Hilliard, also contributed from the perimeter, finishing with 13 points and hitting 3 of 5 from the 3-point arc. The Pistons will have a decision to make on Hilliard, as well, with them holding a team option on the third year of his rookie contract. Hilliard was part of a bench that scored 35 of its 52 points in the second half when the Pistons outscored Memphis 53-31. The Pistons, officially eliminated from the playoffs while idle on Saturday when Charlotte lost, have won two straight against Western Conference playoff teams on the road.

FREE THROW – With Stan Van Gundy intent on giving playing time to Boban Marjanovic, Henry Ellenson and Stanley Johnson over the season’s final four games, one or two of his regular rotation fixtures will sit or see their minutes scaled back. On Friday, it was Jon Leuer who sat out. Leuer was back in the starting lineup at Memphis and Tobias Harris started opposite him – they’ve essentially shared power forward most of the season – as Van Gundy wanted to give Harris more time at small forward. That set of circumstances meant both Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris sat out the game. It might be Tobias Harris, who scored 12 points in the win at Memphis, who sits in Monday’s finale for The Palace to continue allowing Ellenson to soak up late-season experience. Ellenson again struggled to knock down shots – he was 1 of 8 from the 3-point line in a 15-point outing at Houston on Friday in his first career start – but heated up with three second-half triples to finish with nine points and nine rebounds.

3-POINTER – The thing that stands between Boban Marjanovic and moving completely into Aron Baynes’ role next season as Andre Drummond’s full-time backup is his ability to defend the pick and roll and lateral movement in general. Stan Van Gundy says Marjanovic has improved in that area by leaps and bounds over the course of the season and it was evident in his 27-point, 12-rebounding outing in Friday’s win at Houston. “He’s really worked on it. He works every single day,” Van Gundy said. “He does a lot of extra work on his own. I thought he was a lot better the other night covering ground, so that’s all a good thing.” Marjanovic had another strong game in the win with 14 points and 10 boards in 23 minutes, hitting 4 of 6 shots and getting to the line to hit 6 of 7. A second concern of Van Gundy’s that Marjanovic has little to no control over is the abuse he takes in the post offensively. “That’s been a problem for big guys in this league for a long time now,” he said. “You can’t as much as breathe on a guy on the perimeter, but inside you can beat the crap out of guys. It’s not just with him, (but) it’s pronounced with him because he’s so big. Boban doesn’t complain. He’s used to think. I think it was the same way in Europe.”

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