He released the ball from his hands. He waited for the ball to drop into the basket. And each time he went through this process that seems as routine as drinking your morning coffee, Wayne Ellington saw those shots either rim out or fall short.
Yet, Lakers coach Byron Scott repeatedly told Ellington to “keep shooting,” the former Showtime Laker standout and one of his favorite players agreeing “that’s what shooters do.” Shooters also make shots. So when the Lakers entered crunchtime in a game that appeared they would lose, Ellington suddenly turned clutch and made sure they won.
After missing his first six shots, Ellington posted 14 points on a 6-of-9 clip in the fourth quarter that gave the Lakers a 101-93 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday at Staples Center. Ellington finished with a compelling script after writing a pretty rough draft as he helped the Lakers (16-41) secure their second three-game winning streak of the 2014-15 season
“I was prepared either way. It was going be an 0-fer night, or I was going to make some,” Ellington said. “But I was going to keep shooting.”
And when Ellington kept shooting, he kept making them.
He made a 3-pointer that cut the Bucks’ lead to 77-76 with 9:15 left in the game. That sequence prompted Scott to say later, “once he hit one, he seemed to come to life.” Ellington sure did. Four minutes later, Ellington forced a turnover and then converted on a fast-break layup that gave the Lakers an 85-83 edge. He then made consecutive pull-up jumpers that extended the Lakers’ cushion to 92-86 at the 3:40 mark.
“I knew he wasn’t going to stay down,” Scott said of Ellington. “He kept his patience and didn’t get discouraged. He just kept playing.”
Yes, Ellington kept playing. He kept playing with the same calm look on his face. He kept playing with the same determination that involved making hustle plays and helping with floor spacing. He kept playing with the same confidence amid his fluctuating marksmanship.
All of which led Lakers guard Jeremy Lin to describe Ellington’s emotions during the good and the bad with an interesting description.
“Nothing, and that’s a great thing about it,” Lin said. “You don’t see it on him. He’s not like, ‘Oh man.’ He puts one up and he thinks it’s going in. That’s what shooters do.”
Yet, shooters also sometimes do things that become counterproductive.
They do not pass the ball. They take shots that are not there. They become disengaged on defense.
But after conceding, “I just didn’t have a rhythm,” Ellington and his teammates made adjustments. He credited Lin for complementing his 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting with six assists, two of them that set up shots for Ellington. The Lakers spaced the floor and swung the ball around. Ellington also recorded five assists, including a pass that set up Jordan Hill’s 19-foot jumper that gave the Lakers a 96-91 lead with 1:12 remaining.
“I was trying to be aggressive and make the right play,” Ellington said. “If I’m going to the basket, somebody steps up and find the open man. If I get the ball on the wings, swing it again. Just trying to make winning plays.”
And that mindset explains why Ellington had turned heads with the Lakers ever since arriving here as a training camp invitee.
Ever since he finished second in North Carolina’s record books for most three pointers made (229), Ellington reported maintaining confidence through both hot and cold shooting stretches. After posting a career-high 10.9 points on a 43.9 percent clip with the Cleveland Cavaliers under Scott during the 2012-13 season, Ellington listened to Scott’s feedback on morphing from just a catch-and-shoot player into one who can create his own shot. He has averaged 9.5 points on a 43.9 percent clip with the Lakers, filling multiple roles that entailed backing up Kobe Bryant and eventually replacing him in the starting lineup both when he rested and when he nursed a season-ending right shoulder injury.
Ellington had fulfilled this job description with hardly much flash. But he remains effective enough that Scott never has to worry about Ellington making silly mistakes or having a poor game.
“I’ve always been known for my shooting ability as a player. But at the same time, I work on everything,” said Ellington, who spends his summer working on catch-and-shoot opportunities, taking shots off screens, ball handling and passing. “I don’t want to be labeled as a guy who can only do one thing. If that one thing is not working, then you can’t be on the floor.”
Hence, why Ellington stayed on the floor even when his shot did not fall through the net. And once they did, Ellington secured the Lakers a victory. It provided the Lakers temporary elation surrounding a rare win and prolonged trust in a player that will help them with collecting more.