Kennard rises to the moment as Pistons lose title game in OT

ORLANDO – Everybody in the gym knew Luke Kennard was going to get the ball with the Pistons down three points and 8.8 seconds left on the clock.

The Pistons drew up the play for Kennard, just as they had earlier in the week when they trailed by three points on a final possession. That time, Kennard drew the foul and hit three free throws to force overtime. This time …

“Kennard! Kennrd! Aaarghhh,” came the warnings and the reaction from the Dallas bench as their coaches watched Kennard come off a series of screens, catch the ball a few feet beyond and right at the top of the 3-point arc, draining the shot.

Kennard scored all seven Pistons points in overtime – a twisting jump shot in the paint, two free throws as reward for a strong move to the basket and the tying triple – but the Pistons lost in overtime of the Summer League title game for the second consecutive year, this time 83-81.

Kennard finished with 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting, hitting all three of his triples. He finished Summer League averaging 17.2 points and shooting .478 from the 3-point arc while making all nine of his free throws.

It was about as impressive a 10-day period as the Pistons could have hoped to get from Kennard, whom they chose with the 12th pick in the June draft after his sophomore season at Duke.

“We talked about it right from day one,” said Bob Beyer, Pistons associate head coach and again head coach for their Summer League team. “The more you watch him, he’s not afraid of the moment at all. The way our offense was going, we really struggled in the fourth. The ball was in his hands because I thought he was the one guy that either could make a shot or find someone to get an easy score. And he really, really showed that.”

Stan Van Gundy said Wednesday that Kennard had thrust himself into the battle for minutes at shooting guard with what he’d seen from him.

“He’s clearly a guy with no fear,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think anything’s going to bother him. He’s going to go out and play, so he’s got that kind of toughness.”

It wasn’t quite the finish Henry Ellenson, the other key Pistons player here, would have wanted to Summer League. After averaging 20 points through four games, he struggled to a 2 of 10 shooting day with five turnovers in finishing with five points.

“I think he kind of forced some of his shots,” Beyer said. “He shot a little too quick sometimes when he had smaller defenders on him. The best thing for him to do is play with a little more poise and then just shoot right over that defender, but he wanted to get it and go and that’s not really to his benefit when he plays that way.”

The Pistons announced the signing of Eric Moreland after the game to be the No. 3 center on the roster behind Andre Drummond and Boban Marjanovic. The performances of Ellenson and Kennard and the mining of a nugget like Moreland made it a five-star Summer League for the Pistons.

“I thought it was a great week,” Beyer said. “We saw what Luke did today. When you saw him from the first time he stepped on the floor to where he is now, it’s hard to play that many games in a short amount of time that he did, but he got better and played well. And Henry, too, is going to be a fine NBA player and he’ll learn from this experience today.”

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