Chris Singleton had to learn the hard way on Saturday that there is never any time to let up, or believe a task is complete when there is time still remaining on the clock. After Joe Johnson torched the Wizards for 34 points last week in Atlanta, Singleton took on the responsibility of making sure that another Hawks player would have to beat the team.
Singleton limited Johnson to just seven points on 3 of 8 shooting through the first three quarters, keeping him quiet as the Wizards built a 16-point lead. But in the final five minutes, Johnson erupted for nine of his 16 points, including a decisive three-pointer on a broken play with 46.8 seconds remaining.
Johnson took only four shots in the fourth quarter, with his one miss coming when Singleton guided him toward Nene, who sent the shot in the opposite direction. Singleton, though, felt he relied on help too much in the final minutes.
“I went up against him in the summer, just watching him through the years,” Singleton said. “He controls what he does. He uses his body real well and if you mess up, he takes advantage of you.
“I just thought I had more help to the middle and I gave him middle when I should’ve cut him off,” Singleton said, when asked how Johnson got loose late. “When he got in there, he was floating in and made baskets.”
As a rookie, Singleton has faced the difficult challenge of defending the opposing team’s best offensive options on a nightly basis and he has never shied away. That has meant taking a few lumps and occasionally getting embarrassed, such as last week, when Rudy Gay scored 27 points to lead Memphis to a 97-92 win.
But since then, with Nene around to serve as a deterrent inside, Singleton has forced Gerald Wallace and Danny Granger into poor shooting nights. And Singleton used his prior experience against Johnson to give him problems early.
“He’s improving,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Obviously, playing these guys a time or two, you learn. I know the last time, he played Joe a lot. Playing star players like that, you learn little nuances; things they like to do and don’t like to do and he’s picking up really well with that. Chris, he’s always going to get the tough assignment. He’s not one to back down.”
Singleton will match up on Sunday against Boston all-star forward Paul Pierce, who torched the Wizards for 34 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds as the Celtics won, 100-94, on Jan. 22.
“I just got to bring it again,” Singleton said, “like I did” against Johnson. Singleton said he is learning from each experience. “Don’t give up middle. Hold your own. Can’t show that you’re scared of them, because they’re going to just punk you. You’ve got to play.”