Pistons, missing Kennard, sputter on offense in losing opener to Bucks

Henry Ellenson scored all of his 16 points in the second half after struggling through a frustrating first half as the Pistons lose their Summer League opener to Milwaukee.
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by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – Fair to say the Pistons missed Luke Kennard.

Without Kennard to make shots, create shots for others and draw defenders to him for the 3-point threat he represents, the Pistons mostly sputtered on offense, especially in the first half, in a 90-63 loss to Milwaukee to open NBA Summer League play.

Henry Ellenson went scoreless in the first half before scoring all 16 of his points in the second half. It was Summer League for the NBA stats crew, too, because the stats monitors malfunctioned and no official stats were available, but Ellenson scored eight points in each of the third and fourth quarters to lead the Pistons after missing everything in the first half.

The Pistons anticipated using Kennard on the ball with rookies Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown on the wings and Ellenson doing plenty of pick-and-popping and using his ballhandling off of that to create scoring chances. Kennard suffered a strained left knee in Monday’s practice and the Pistons decided not to push it, idling him for the duration of Summer League.

“Obviously, missing Luke,” Ellenson said. “It would’ve been great playing with him, but he’s got to deal with his knee and he’s got to get healthy for the season because that’s the most important thing. But I thought Khyri and Bruce did a great job their first game. Khyri hit some shots right away to get us going and Bruce was real aggressive to score. Some of the shots weren’t going, but he took great shots to the rim. He’ll learn. Really proud of what those guys did, too.”

Thomas, the two-time Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, started the game on Milwaukee’s Sterling Brown, who as a rookie last season worked his way occasionally into the Bucks rotation. On the first possession, Thomas used his 6-foot-10 wing span to deflect a Brown pass.

“You saw Khyri, first play of the game got a deflection,” Ellenson said. “It shows what he can do defensively. He’s into guys the whole time.”

“Just pressuring the ball,” Thomas said. “That’s what we were taught. Coach told us to pressure the ball. I saw he was lackadaisical with it. That mentality is just within, I guess.”

It’s ingrained in Thomas because as a kid growing up in Omaha, Neb., if he didn’t play defense he wouldn’t touch the ball.

“You didn’t get the ball a lot playing with older people, so I just stole the ball and I got the ball,” he said. “That’s where it started. Just steal the ball and you’ll get it.”

The Pistons didn’t score until their 10th possession, when Thomas drained a corner three. A few trips later, he knocked down a mid-range jump shot when he had to create something for himself as the shot clock went off.

The Dwane Casey-inspired offense produced a healthy number of the shots it’s designed to create – especially those corner threes – but the Pistons shot poorly up and down the lineup.

Ellenson, perhaps reflecting the six practices the Pistons held in the previous four days, kept coming up short on his wide-open jump shots in the first half.

“Guys were great. The whole bench was talking, telling me to shoot it,” Ellenson said. “They were great shots – all right there – and guys were really unselfish, throwing it back for wide-open kick-outs. We’ll definitely take some notes from this game and be ready to go for tomorrow.”

The Pistons will play Memphis at 9 p.m. EDT on Saturday and the game will be televised on NBA TV.