Bradley Beal knew what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go, and was in command in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 104-95 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
With his team falling into a big hole, Beal had a 14-point outburst that showed what he is capable of when he forces the issue while playing under control. He helped the Wizards chop an 18-point deficit in half, lifting his team back into a game that it had a chance to win in the final three minutes.
“He got to learn where his shots are, when to take them, how to take them, and being aggressive,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I thought he had stints of that.”
Too often during his rookie season, Beal has gotten lost in the action, looked overwhelmed and waited for the game to him – until it never came. Beal appeared to be headed toward another one of those performances on Friday in Atlanta, where he was coming down with a cold and played passively in the first half, going 0-3 with just two points.
“I played with zero energy in the first quarter. I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do,” Beal said. “I had like headache. I was kind of under the weather. I wasn’t being aggressive on either end.”
Beal had a frustrating finish in the second quarter when he blocked a shot by Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, then watched Zaza Pachulia grab the ball and find Teague cutting for a layup that gave Atlanta a 54-41 lead at the break.
But when he emerged from the locker room at halftime, Beal asserted himself in a manner that the Wizards are going to need more often than not – especially with John Wall’s return pushed back indefinitely and Trevor Ariza sidelined. He made 5 of 7 shots, including two three-pointers, grabbed two rebounds and added an assist and a steal.
“I started myself off easy, instead of starting myself off with a jump shot or a three-pointer all the time, just started inside and worked my way out,” said Beal, who finished with 18 points.
Actually, Beal started from the outside and worked himself in, made a running jumper and three-pointer before attacking the lane for a driving layup. The Hawks extended their lead to 70-52 when Al Horford caught an alley-oop, but Beal kept attacking the middle, cutting to the rim for contact or attempted layups. He later stole the ball from Hawks guard Devin Harris, kicked the ball out to Jordan Crawford, then buried a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 80-71 at the start of the final period.
The Wizards (2-14) can’t expect Beal to make 14-point quarters the norm the rest of the season. After all, he has scored fewer than 14 points in 10 games this season.
But Beal no longer has to settle for a poor game, simply because his first few shots don’t fall. Beal has scored in double figures in his past three games, averaging 14 points over that span.
Beal didn’t have much energy left in the fourth quarter, when he missed his final three shots and Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford carried the Wizards. But he had a steal and wisely sought some contact from Horford on the break, getting two free throws as the Wizards trailed, 91-89, with four minutes remaining.
After scrambling just to get back in the game, the Wizards didn’t have enough in the tank to finish the job. “I know I was tired,” Beal said. “You just have to fight through it. If you want to win games you know its tough but you have to be able to grind through it.
“It’s all mental for us,” he said. “It should never be a physical thing. Thing is the mind always beats out the body any day. So you have to be mentally tough to be able to fight through adversity…We got caught up on the short end of the stick this time.”