ORLANDO – Like most folks that travel to this central Florida playground, Henry Ellenson wants to take a little token of his trip back home with him.
“We’re in the championship tomorrow,” he said after scoring 29 points to carry the Pistons to an 87-82 win over Charlotte. “We were here last year and we barely lost that one. I want to walk away with the winning hats they get, so if I could take that home and go to the lake or something, I’ll be good.”
The Pistons are 3-1 – their only loss came by a point when an incorrect application of the rules allowed Oklahoma City to erase a four-point deficit in the final 10 seconds of the opener – and will play Dallas at 2 p.m. Thursday for the title. They lost in sudden-death overtime in last year’s title game when Ellenson was fresh off the draft.
He’s come a long way since then even though Ellenson, at 20, remains the youngest player on Stan Van Gundy’s roster.
“He’s certainly at a different point than he was a year ago,” Van Gundy said. “A year ago, you could walk out of Summer League here and see that it was going to take time. It wasn’t going to be early in the season. You knew that. Everybody who watched knew that. That’s not the case now. He’s in the mix and I think ready to fight guys for minutes.”
Ellenson had his best scoring game of Summer League, hitting 12 of 20 shots overall and 4 of 8 front the 3-point line. He got rolling early with 10 points in the first quarter, taking advantage of the space Charlotte was giving him by not switching smaller players on to Ellenson and by not sending guards to double when he caught the ball on the blocks.
“The guards were able to find me right away off some pops,” he said. “Their bigs were staying with the guards a little bit longer today and I was able to get some shots going early. It’s easier to start off a game like that, for sure.”
He never really slowed down with two of his biggest baskets came in the closing minutes. The Pistons took the game’s only double-digit lead with a 15-3 run to open the fourth quarter to go up 78-63. But Charlotte came back with a 9-0 run while Ellenson and Luke Kennard, who scored 14 points, remained on the bench.
Shortly after Ellenson came back in with the lead down to two points, he drained an 18-foot baseline jumper. With just under a minute left and the Pistons again ahead by only two points, Ellenson gave another reminder of his versatility with a runner shot against his body as he dribbled down the left side of the lane.
“The clock was running down and we needed to get a bucket,” he said. “(Charlotte) just closed out hard. I was able to attack it and I wasn’t able to get all the way to the rack but I was able to float that up. I’m comfortable with that floater shot, finally got one to go this week. That was good.”
Ellenson is averaging 20.5 points and 7.0 rebounds through four games, shooting .477 overall and .393 from the 3-point arc on seven attempts a game while leading the Pistons in minutes played at just over 30 a game.
“I think it’s been a good Summer League,” he said.
Now if he can just take a hat back home to Rice Lake, Wis., it’ll be a great Summer League.