The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration provided the perfect opportunity for Bradley Beal to forget about his terrible game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. The Wizards asked Beal, the youngest player on the team, to address the crowd before Washington hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. Beal held a microphone and spoke from the heart for roughly a minute, honored the legacy of the late civil rights leader and thanked the fans for attending the game.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s always great just to be able to tell people how you feel,” Beal said afterward. “He’s done so much for our lives and everybody. Just everything he stood for, and his vision. And everything he’s seen. And for us to be together today, it’s all because of him. It’s always a great feeling to pay your respects to a great leader such as him.”
After surviving the brief speech without any missteps, Beal went out and had his most complete game of the season. Beal finished with a team-high 22 points, a season-high nine rebounds and a career-high-tying eight assists in leading the Wizards to a 107-99 victory.
“That’s a pretty good line,” Coach Randy Wittman said after Beal made 8 of 15 field goals and 3 of 6 three-pointers.
Even better: It came after he missed 12 of 14 shots in a 104-98 loss against the Pistons two nights earlier and had to use humor as a way to quickly move on after the game. Beal said he got a phone call after the game from the person who taught him how to shoot – his mother, Besta.
“My mom went off on me, that I had to get my head out of my butt and shoot the ball the right way,” Beal said with a laugh. “But you have to have amnesia. It’s so many games in this league and I definitely had it. I shot the ball pretty well, a few I wish I had back but I was pretty solid. I have to continue being more consistent moving forward.”
Though Beal topped 20 points for just the third time in 18 games since returning from a stress injury in right fibula, his scoring outburst was actually sparked by his passing. In his first six-minute stint on the floor, Beal attempted one shot but had three assists, finding Trevor Ariza for a three-pointer, John Wall for a jumper and Marcin Gortat for an alley-oop dunk.
“He can do a lot of different things. I’m actually glad he wasn’t focused on scoring,” Gortat said. “He brings so much on the court, defensively, he can create so many open shots.”
Beal has had eight assists one other time this season, and that also came against the 76ers on Nov. 6.
“It was fun. I like playing like that,” Beal said. “It was just me just finding my teammates and the bigs doing a great job of laying the ball in and finishing and the guards of knocking down shots. I was just playing within the flow of the game and I was fortunate to have a high number of assists.”
Wittman was pleased to see that Beal wasn’t shy about shooting again, a trait every scorer needs. “I talk to guys all the time that you’re going to have 2 for 14s, but as long as you got a good 14 looks at it, I don’t care,” Wittman said. “I told him that. If you get 14 good ones again, then you better take them. I get upset when they turn them down. I think that helps you fight through it.”
Beal did the bulk of his scoring in the second period, when he hit two three-pointers to help the Wizards build a 12-point lead. In the second half, Beal again brought out his playmaking side with two lob passes to Jan Vesely for dunks as the lead ballooned to 21.
“He is still learning a lot about his game,” Wall said. “I wish he would’ve got his first triple-double.”
Getting close against the 76ers has inspired Beal to take a few more shots at it. Wall had just five assists and Beal said he wouldn’t mind taking some pressure off his back-court mate by creating for his teammates.
“Hopefully, I’ll be the point guard. John will be the” shooting guard,” Beal said with a laugh. “It just gets me going, just knowing that I’m contributing in more than one area. Just knowing that I can be a decoy one moment and scorer the next moment. Get a stop, get a rebound and just start the break. It’s just being versatile and not being so one dimensional and whenever I do that I feel when I do that it benefits the team.”