On a night when their most experienced player looked lost and confused, the Wizards nearly rode the infectious energy of two of their least experienced players to the first win of the season.
Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton were drafted in the past two Junes to provide hustle and defense for a team deficient in those areas, and they both made a case for more playing time in the Wizards’ 99-96 loss on Friday to the New York Knicks.
Booker defended Knicks all-star Carmelo Anthony so hard that Anthony had to use an elbow to shake him for the decisive shot, and Singleton refused to let the lessons Anthony was serving him deter him from having an effect on the game. The duo combined for 20 points, 14 rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.
“Aw man, they bring great energy, determination, will,” Nick Young said. “Both of them playing together at the same time, they gonna fight, be with you ’til the end.”
Coach Flip Saunders had little choice but to keep Booker on the floor, and routinely alternate Singleton on defense, in the final minutes.
Saunders also had to keep 14-year veteran Rashard Lewis in the role of spectator the final 17 minutes after Lewis proved to be ineffective.
Lewis had a bizarre sequence in the third period as the Wizards were squirting away a comfortable first-half lead. He tracked down a loose ball near the sideline, staying on his tippy-toes, as he waited for a teammate to come to him. When no one came, Lewis finally tossed the ball across the court and Carmelo Anthony stole the ball.
Frustrated, Lewis then watched Anthony score an uncontested layup without attempting to stop him. Lewis then picked up two fouls trying to guard Anthony and was booed a few minutes later when he lost ball.
The Wizards trailed by seven points when Saunders finally pulled Lewis and replaced him with Singleton. It was no coincidence that the team suddenly went on a 9-2 run in about four minutes to tie the game. Singleton hit a three-pointer during the run, then after Mike Bibby hit a corner three, Singleton answered with another three-pointer to tie the game at 69.
Singleton scored a career-high 12 points and was 3 for 3 from beyond the arc. “I knew I could shoot. It’s just if they knew I could shoot. That’s what I was working on, this whole lockout,” Singleton, the rookie from Florida State, said.
Singleton was fired up about playing the Knicks, the last team to pass on him during the draft.
“I vowed to make all the teams regret me, the teams that passed up on me,” he said. “I was just trying to just play tonight and let everything come to me. Every time I step on the court, I get more and more comfortable.”
Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said before the game “Singleton’s a heck of a player. I really like him.” But he added that the Knicks had a need in the back court, which led them to draft Iman Shumpert, who finished with 10 points and seven assists off the bench.
Singleton tried to get physical with Anthony early, and Anthony decided to take the rookie to school with a 13-point, second-quarter barrage that helped the Knicks come back from a 16-point deficit. Saunders called it a “prime example of getting beat by an all-pro.” Singleton said he accepted it as a learning experience.
“I can play with the best. There is a lot I learned from this game. It’s a lot of good points, a lot of bad points,” Singleton said, acknowledging two fourth-quarter blunders – rushing a putback with seven seconds remaining and missing a breakaway dunk. “I thought it was kind of funny I missed it. It was probably the first dunk I missed in two years. I missed one at Maryland, but that’s the last time I missed a dunk. I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”
Booker didn’t get a field goal until he had a vicious putback dunk to start the fourth quarter, and he gave the Wizards a one-point lead with a layup. But Booker’s value wasn’t from his offense. He harassed Anthony into missing six of his 10 shot attempts in the final period, though he couldn’t stop him on the decisive three-pointer with 15.9 seconds remaining.
“He ended up elbowing me in the face, I thought I was going to get knocked unconscious. I couldn’t think straight. So I couldn’t yell switch, but I’m good though,” Booker said. “To me, he’s the best scorer in the league. He can do it in a variety of ways. He can just pull up in your face. One dribble pull up and get to the basket and finish. So, it’s definitely difficult. I just tried to be aggressive with him. Put a body on him and get a hand up.”
It was almost enough.