ORLANDO — Bradley Beal and John Wall have never played meaningful NBA games in March, never had to understand the importance of valuing each possession, staying focused and not giving in to the grind of a long season that can offer pockets of adversity against foes long eliminated from playoff contention.
Friday night offered just a situation, with the Wizards trailing late against Eastern Conference doormat Orlando. Beal and Wall had the answers in a gutty 105-101 overtime win, Washington’s first in Orlando in more than four years.
Beal fought through back stiffness in his back to chase down Magic point guard Jameer Nelson for a game-saving block that resulted in a five-point swing. Beal, of course, wouldn’t have been in that position if Wall had not shaken off a miserable shooting night to go on a personal 8-2 run in the final 65 seconds of regulation, including a fallaway three-pointer to force the extra frame.
“Big plays by the youngsters,” veteran point guard Andre Miller said. “Beal, that was probably the play of the season for this team, knowing what this team is playing for, to get that block. And for John to finish out the fourth quarter with three-point plays, it was a good effort. It was big time. It showed maturity. They didn’t give up.”
With impressive efforts from their talented back court, the Wizards (34-31) snapped a two-game losing streak, and seven-game losing skid in Orlando dating from Feb. 5, 2010. Washington also set up a critical game with the Brooklyn Nets for sole possession of fifth-place in the Eastern Conference — for at least one night — on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Beal’s shot wasn’t falling late, and his back was ailing, but he couldn’t give into either after Wall had already willed the team into overtime. With the Wizards trailing 97-96 with 70 seconds remaining, Wall made a blunder, looking over an open Trevor Ariza to pass the ball to a guarded Beal. Nelson picked off the pass and sprinted up the floor on a fast break.
As Nelson took off, Marcin Gortat watched the play unfold and liked Beal’s chances.
“Oh yeah. I know Jameer can’t really dunk the ball anymore,” Gortat said with a laugh.
Beal slapped Nelson’s shot off the backboard. Wall beat everyone to the carom, then found Ariza for a three-pointer turned a possible three-point deficit into a two-point lead with a minute left.
“It would be easy to stand there and watch Jameer go down and make the layup,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Those are plays good teams make to stay in it. I’m trying to teach our guys, it’s easy to play the game when everything is going good, making shots and things come easy. Playoffs are a grind. It’s dirty. It’s not easy.”
Four Wizards recorded double-doubles, with Wall having 21 points and 11 assists, Ariza scoring 21 points with 11 rebounds, Marcin Gortat having 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds and Trevor Booker adding 11 points and 11 rebounds. Beal finished with 20 points.
“The only shots I felt like I was making was threes, so I said, ‘Why not? They’re there,’ ” said Wall, who finished 7 of 18 from the field but also 4 of 6 from three-point range. “If you want to be an all-star and you want to be a leader on this team, you have to be able to take those shots.”
Beal (20 points) had missed all seven of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, but he gave the Wizards a 96-95 lead with a pull-up foul line jumper. Nelson (13 points) then answered with a driving layup, but Beal made sure that he wouldn’t push the lead any higher.
“That’s a championship caliber play Brad made, and then John, not giving up and hustling back on defense, they both did a great job,” veteran Al Harrington said. “That’s showing they’re growing and realize how big this moment is.”
The night didn’t end without a brief scare. On the next possession, Beal forced rookie Victor Oladlipo (15 points) into missing a driving layup and rolled his right ankle when he landed. Beal hit the floor, weeping in the hardwood, thinking that he had broken his ankle, as his concerned teammates gathered around him. Kevin Seraphin and Otto Porter Jr. eventually had to carry Beal to the locker room but he walked out of the arena on his own power.
“I was just hoping it wasn’t broken. That’s always a player’s first instinct — hope and pray it’s nothing too too serious and fortunately, it was only a sprain,” Beal said. “We just keep going, keep attacking. You’re not always going to stay hot all the time. You’re not going to make all your shots. For us to get this win up underneath us is a great feeling.”