Anadolu Efes Istanbul was sitting pretty atop the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague standings when the 2019-20 season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Real Madrid was tied for second. What looked to be a potential 2020 championship game instead played out as a thrilling five-game playoff series and after prevailing in a Game 5 thriller, Efes is now headed to Cologne, Germany, where it will fight for its first EuroLeague crown at the Final Four.
On an Efes team full of stars, it was a veteran forward, playing his 200th EuroLeague game and starting for the first time in the series, who carried the team in Game 5. Chris Singleton entered the game ranked eighth on the team in performance index rating. However, Game 5s have rules of their own and Singleton has shined in them at every opportunity.
Singleton tied a career-best with 26 points scored and set a career-high with a performance index rating of 38. He hardly left the floor, playing a game-high 37:25 minutes, and made 5 of 7 two-pointers, all 3 of his three-pointers and 7 of 8 free throws.
When assessing his team's play, Coach Ergin Ataman praised his veteran big man: "We had one excellent player, Chris Singleton. He was amazing; it was his career game in our team."
Ataman surely knew that Singleton was a big-game player before he signed him. After all, Singleton's last EuroLeague game before he joined Efes was with FC Barcelona in Game 5 of the 2019 EuroLeague Playoffs... against Efes. Singleton led both teams in PIR that night too with 20. He tallied 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals, though his team fell to Efes 80-71.
Singleton first found himself in a decisive Game 5 in his debut EuroLeague campaign. That time, he led Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to an 81-67 victory over Barcelona with 16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal for a PIR of 27.
Consider this: Singleton has averaged 8.7 points on 44.4% two-point shooting, 41.4% on threes and 76.8% on free throws plus 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1.1 steals for an average PIR of 10.7 in 200 EuroLeague games. In three Game 5s, he's averaged 18 points on 64.7% two-point shooting, 63.6% on threes and 84.6% free throws with 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 steals for an average PIR of 27.7.
"I just wanted to win. Coach believed in me. He put me in the starting lineup," Singleton said after the game. "I just had to put my heart and my grit out there."
What was special about Singleton's game on Tuesday was not just the numbers he posted, but when they came. He scored on three of Efes's first four possessions to disrupt the Real defense en route to 9 points in the first quarter. Singleton played the entirety of the second half and was still sharp down the stretch. He scored 8 points and drew 5 fouls in the fourth quarter, including a key defensive rebound, a foul drawn and 2 free throws made with 15 seconds left that put Efes up 85-80 and all but clinched the game and series.
"If you have time, I can talk all night about all my teammates," Efes's All-EuroLeague guard Vasilije Micic said in his post-game interview. "But tonight, Chris had a great performance. He had a great contribution from the beginning. We really missed him in some of the games, but definitely he's an experienced player. He knows how to play important matches. And he knows how to increase his [form], like he showed today. In the most important game, he showed his best."
In all six of his EuroLeague seasons, Singleton's teams have clinched a playoff berth. Nevertheless, the games in Cologne will mark only his second Final Four appearance. This time, all the other teams know that with the season on the line, Singleton is not a man to be overlooked.