NEW YORK – Bradley Beal got the ball in the post, backed down Boston Celtics backup point guard Phil Pressey and buried a turnaround jumper. Beal then hit a wide-open baseline jumper, took an underhand lefty flip pass from John Wall and dunked, stole an inbounds pass and made a layup, came around a screen-and-roll with Marcin Gortat and hit a pull-up, caught a pass from Trevor Booker for an open three-pointer and finally drove left around Al Harrington to hit another baseline jumper.
Seven shots went up, seven shots dropped.
“It’s about me being confident and making sure I took good shots,” Beal said. “My teammates did a good finding me and I was just fortunate I was able to knock down some.”
And finally, with the game well out of reach and reserves set to come in the game, Beal called his own number and went up for another jumper that … hit the front of the rim.
“I was mad I miss that last one, but it is what it is,” Beal said.
Beal failed in his pursuit of the first perfect shooting performance of his career, but his anger also reflected a shift from previous weeks when his shot wasn’t falling much at all. For 16 games, Beal failed to make at least half of his shots until he scored a game-high 20 points and converted 8 of 12 attempts in Monday’s loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. In his past two games, Beal has shot 15 of 20 from the floor and appears to have distanced himself from the longest funk of his career.
But Coach Randy Wittman felt that his woes were mildly overblown because the second-year shooting guard’s ability to manufacture more points from the foul line and make contributions in other areas. “That’s going to happen to shooters,” Wittman said. “That’s one thing I could do when I played in this league, was shoot. When you go through it, if you become timid, you’re going to be in that shooting slump a long time. You got to stay aggressive and that’s what he’s done.”
After clinching their first playoff berth in six years, the Wizards (39-36) will need Beal to continue to uptick in efficiency if they hope to fend of the Bobcats for the sixth spot or catch the Brooklyn Nets for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Beal certainly played a huge role in helping to Wizards reach that position on Dec. 16, when he returned from a stress injury in his right leg, came off the bench and scored 21 points, including the game-winning layup in a 102-101 win against New York Knicks. The victory was the first of three in a row and helped establish the Wizards as a team that was capable of winning in the road, in hostile environments. In his return, Beal is excited about the chance of having another Madison Square Garden moment.
“It’s great. It’s always fun playing here, the atmosphere. It’s a great team, we’re playing against. It’s always competitive and it’s always fun playing. The darkness and the light beaming on you, it just makes you feel like you made it. Hopefully, I’ll have another good one here.”
The Knicks have improved considerably since that defeat and are currently eighth in the East after winning 12 of their past 15 games. If the Wizards are in a similar position, needing a bucket in the closing seconds, Beal might not have such a clear path to the basket with Tyson Chandler playing and protecting the rim, rather than Andrea Bargnani. Beal is certainly expecting the Knicks to apply more defensive pressure this time around.
“We know they’re going to come out aggressive from the start,” Beal said. “The last game, they probably think we won by luck or something like that, but at the end of the day, we got to come in ready to go, because we know they’re going for eighth right now and we’re trying to move up still. Hopefully, we can take advantage of this opportunity coming up.”
Beal is excited that he will make his playoff debut in his second NBA season, at age 20, but he doesn’t want to lose sight of the other goals that the team has set. “We got seven more to go. Got to bear down and get these last seven and make a great run in the playoffs,” Beal said. “It’s definitely a different type of basketball for sure. I’m going to approach it the same way, but be more mentally focused and give it my all each game. No holding back. Me and John have never been there before, but hopefully we’ll just come out compete as best we can.”