Even if Bradley Beal had never known the exhilaration of making that three-pointer that forced double overtime against the Brooklyn Nets last Friday, he still may have had the confidence to take, and make, that one-handed, game-winning jumper in the Wizards’ 101-99 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.
But seeing how Beal was able to respond under the pressure against Brooklyn – after the Wizards had blown an eight-point lead in 75 seconds – certainly made Coach Randy Wittman more comfortable in calling up the final play against Oklahoma City for the 19-year-old rookie.
The Wizards had just allowed Kevin Durant to score five consecutive points to tie the game at 99, and A.J. Price – in his first game back after missing the previous 15 with a broken hand – tried to save the day with an ill-advised jumper. But the team was given one last opportunity when the Thunder knocked the carom out of bounds with 12.2 seconds left.
“How many times have we been in this situation?” Wittman recalled telling his players during the timeout. “We’re going to get the last shot. We miss; we go to overtime. We make it; we win.”
Wittman was so confident in Beal that he gave the youngster a simple instruction and let him go to work.
“Coach told me to go make a play,” Beal said, “and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ ”
Beal had some clue. Wittman had noticed that Oklahoma City had decided switch with its big men on pick-and-roll defense and wanted to create a situation in which Beal would eventually be matched up against Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.
The Wizards got the inbounds pass to Kevin Seraphin, who tossed the ball underhand to Beal and backed off. Seraphin then slid up to set a pick on Thabo Sefolosha and dipped back as Perkins stepped up to double-team Beal.
“He’s probably our best one-on-one guy to create an opportunity,” Wittman said. “Pop him out, get him out. We wanted to run whoever Perkins was on up to him.”
Beal drove, saw a wall of Perkins and Sefolosha and knew that he could get them off of their feet with a pump-fake.
“I knew Perkins was going to go for it for sure,” Beal said. “With the time going down like that, he was going to contest the jump shot. I was just trying to make a smart play.”
With Perkins shooting straight up and Sefolosha flying right by, Beal dipped under Perkins and guided the ball through the net with one hand. When asked what he saw as the play unfolded, Price said with a laugh, “From my perspective, I was wide open, honestly.”
Price wanted another attempt at hitting the game-winner but wasn’t complaining after Beal made the shot. As Beal ran down the court, looking around, unsure about where to go to celebrate, Price was sprinting right behind to pat him on the chest and shout in his ear.
“He made a great move and big-time shot. That was a tough shot, not an easy one at all,” Price said. “At 19, each game for him is a learning process and we fail to understand that at times. He’s seeing guys for the first time, as the season goes on, he’s becoming more comfortable and you can see it with this game. He’s playing with a ton of confidence.”
Beal has been coming into his own in recent weeks, posting three 20-point outings in his past five games and stepping up in the clutch. His teammates can only marvel at how quickly Beal is starting to figure out what he wants to do on the floor.
The final sequence of his 22-point game against the Thunder only supported that growth. “It looked like slow motion,” Martell Webster said. “He looked very comfortable doing it, like he has done it 100 times.”
Wittman expects Beal’s game-winner to be the first of many. “He made a helluva shot,” “I think it will go a long way for him. He’s starting to consistently give you good performances. Consistently.”