Pistons take one on the chin as Ellenson absorbs Hall-of-Fame lessons

Henry Ellenson made an impression as he drew his second straight start while Blake Griffin sat out in a preseason loss at San Antonio
Mark Sobhani (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

SAN ANTONIO – With Jon Leuer still working his way back from August knee surgery and Dwane Casey determined to have Blake Griffin in peak form for the regular season, Henry Ellenson is getting a wide berth to make a lasting impression.

On Friday night it came against two guys who could well have their busts in the Hall of Fame by the time Ellenson is in his prime. The 21-year-old Ellenson – the youngest Pistons player for a third straight year – spent most of his night going against either Pau Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge and held his own.

In 29 minutes, Ellenson finished with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. Aldridge had 14 points and three rebounds in his 21 minutes, Gasol 13 points and five boards in his 15 minutes.

“Those guys, I think going against them tonight, I definitely learned a lot,” Ellenson said. “Just got to fight for position earlier. I gave them too good a spot. It’s tough when you get into the middle and those guys have such good touch when the ball’s up high, going over either shoulder. I feel like the second half, I tried to meet them earlier, tried to bump them off their spot. But two talented players that I got a chance to learn from tonight.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich frequently rests his front-line players during the regular season to keep them fresh, but he played everyone in San Antonio’s 117-93 win while Griffin and Reggie Jackson again sat out for the Pistons. The Spurs went on a 14-0 run late in the first quarter after the Pistons had taken a 20-19 lead.

“The end of the first quarter was the back breaker,” Dwane Casey said. “There are going to be nights your shot’s not going to fall and that’s when we’ve got to bounce back. You’re either rubber or glass and you’ve got to be rubber when you’re not making shots. That’s something we’ll learn.”

After making only 9 of 37 from the 3-point arc in Wednesday’s win at Oklahoma City, the Pistons struggled to another subpar night: 10 of 39. They compounded their struggles by shooting only 17 of 40 inside the arc. In two games, the Pistons have taken just 14 shots from mid-range, but Casey sees room for improvement in other areas.

“One of our themes in training camp is finishing at the rim,” Casey said. “Some of it’s concentration, some of it is seeing where you are, kicking it out or dropping off. They have great length, but we missed a lot of open shots that we’ll make. I have no doubt we’ll make them.”

Casey made one tweak to the starting lineup, using rookie Bruce Brown at point guard, though Ish Smith wound up playing more minutes, 23 to Brown’s 16. Brown has played exclusively at point guard through the first two preseason games and he’s A-OK with that.

“Coach Casey let me know that I’d be playing point guard and I just accepted it,” he said. “I feel like that’s what my game is going to be. That’s where I fit in. I’ve just got to keep getting better at it.”

Brown said he focused on feeding Andre Drummond, who led the Pistons with 18 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, and admits he’s still feeling his way in determining how aggressive to be.

“I saw a competitor,” Casey said of Brown. “Once he gets his feet wet – he’s a little jittery, a little nervous, but that’s expected from a rookie. He’s going to be good. I like his pit-bull mentality. I like the way he competed.”

Ellenson also stuck his nose in there against two guys with a combined 29 years of NBA experience. He looked at his performance objectively, acknowledging he did some good things but lamenting that he didn’t do more.

“I feel like with Blake down, a good opportunity to get starts these first two preseason games,” he said. “Really just tried to attack. Thunder game, did some good things, learned from it and then tonight got off to a good start offensively. Defensively, I wish I had put a little more pressure on, but coming in the second half I did a better job trying to get into them. I’m just trying to make the most of these minutes and leave an impression. Wish some things went a little different.”

Casey saw it much the same way: reasons for optimism, examples for ways to improve.

“He missed some shots as far as he had some open looks,” he said. “He’s just got to relax and play. This is his second exhibition game this year with a lot of responsibility and it’s going to come. He’s a young kid. You’re going against Gasol, who is a Hall of Famer. It’s a great lesson for him. We’ve got to take all the positives we can. The most important thing is the compete level. When you get hit in the head, you’ve got to fight back and compete.”