Of all the prizes on offer over six rounds of dramatic Turkish Airlines EuroLeague action in March, home-court advantage in the playoffs may well prove to be the most valuable. One team made the biggest move last month to seize that possibility, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens, and one player had the most to do with that achievement, Chris Singleton, Euroleague Basketball’s choice as the EuroLeague MVP for March.
After two defeats to open the month, the Greens seemed unlikely candidates to eventually begin the playoffs at home. But their four wins in a row to end March have suddenly changed the playoffs landscape at the end of the longest regular season in European club competition history. Singleton led Panathinaikos in both scoring and rebounds last month as his team methodically moved up to fourth place. He ranked fifth in both those categories among all EuroLeague players in March, but he was even better, third, in both performance index rating and blocked shots. Every bit of it counted as the Greens beat three playoff-bound teams – Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow and Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz – and may now clinch fourth place in Round 30 even if they don’t win. History says that 25 of 32 five-game EuroLeague playoffs over the years have been won by teams with home-court advantage. Considering that Panathinaikos is 14-1 at Olympic Sports Center Athens this season, the team’s great March finish could eventually lead to its Final Four return after five seasons. Whether or not that happens, Singelton’s fingerprints will be all over the remarkable accomplishment of Panathinaikos creating that opportunity in March.
The MVP of the Month honor is now in its 13th season. Although statistics and performance index ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team’s performance. The award for March was based on the six regular season games that all teams played during the month.
If Panathinaikos started the month slowly, it wasn’t for lack of production from Singleton. In Round 24, he matched his career high with 4 three-pointers while scoring 23 points, pulling 6 rebounds and making 3 blocks for an index rating of 30, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 77-72 road loss to Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul. A week later, his 11 points, 6 rebounds and 3 more blocks couldn’t prevent a late collapse and a 64-58 road loss to Zalgiris Kaunas, either.
Panathinaikos regrouped at home against first-place Madrid, however, as Singleton had 21 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks for a PIR of 23 in a huge 88-82 victory. The Greens didn’t need Singleton much to top EA7 Emporio Armani Milan 74-61 at home in Round 27, but two nights later, Singleton was stellar in the biggest game of the month, if not the whole season, for his team. On the road against Baskonia to break their fifth-place tie, Singleton dominated with game-highs of 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks to give Panathinaikos a resounding 63-72 win and the upper hand in the race for fourth place. That goal was realized in March’s final game as Panathinaikos went to overtime to beat second-place CSKA Moscow 85-80 as Singleton contributed 13 points and 5 rebounds.
With his team now in control of its own destiny, Singleton finished March with averages of 15.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 18.0 PIR over six games. He also shot with great accuracy across the board: 18 for 32 (56.3%) on two-pointers, 11 for 25 (44%) on threes, and 22 for 27 (81.5%) on free throws. It all added up to a great show of leadership and skill that made him the March MVP, the first monthly honor of his EuroLeague career. Panathinaikos fans will be able to celebrate with Singleton at an upcoming home game – maybe even the first one of the playoffs.