PHOENIX — The scorekeepers weren't doing the Washington Wizards or Bradley Beal any favors Friday night at US Airways Center with some questionable time-keeping that caused confusion and complaints. Adhering to a 30-minute limit instilled by the team's medical staff as Beal recovers from a stress injury in his right leg, Coach Randy Wittman and his staff were agitated and uncertain about Beal's time on the floor, voicing their displeasure throughout the second half.
Once the situation was settled, Beal provided calm at the close, maximizing his final stint on the floor and scoring seven of the Wizards’ final eight points in an impressive 101-95 victory against the Phoenix Suns.
“Sheesh. The minutes were all screwed up,” a flustered Wittman said after the game. “He had a certain number of minutes at halftime and then at the end of the third quarter, he played 14 minutes but there’s only 12 minutes in the quarter. I was trying to explain and they were like, ‘What’s the big deal? Don’t worry about the minutes?’ Well, I have to worry about the minutes.”
Wittman’s concern was understandable since Beal’s minutes proved to be critical two nights earlier when the second-year guard was forced to sit all but the final possession in an overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. The Wizards would not have won on Friday without Beal on the floor at the end. He entered the game with 3 minutes 20 seconds remaining for his final push with the Wizards leading by three. The lead quickly vanished as the Suns tied the game at 93 on a dunk by Miles Plumlee.
Despite having hit just 5 of 12 shots at the time, Beal responded by coming around a screen by Marcin Gortat and burying the decisive three-pointer, flashing a confident grin toward the Wizards bench as he backpedaled down the court. He made his final three shots and finished with 17 points, six rebounds and four steals.
“I heard the coaches talking about it, but I wasn't really sure what was going on. I heard they tried to give me more minutes than I had," Beal said of the confusion surrounding his time on the floor. “I had no idea. Whenever I came out, I just came out, I didn't even think twice about it. I knew that eventually the ball was going to come my way."
Gortat was back in Phoenix for the first time since he was traded to Washington on Oct. 25, having spent 2 1 / 2 seasons with the Suns while the team transitioned from the Steve Nash era and bottomed out into a complete rebuild.
Many viewed his trade as the latest sign that the Suns were playing for the future, not the present. Instead, the Suns have been thriving, coming into Friday's game at 24-17 and jockeying for a playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference. They were coming off a 24-point victory over the league-leading Indiana Pacers.
Before the game, Gortat expressed a desire to get a win in his old home and he appeared wound up on the opening tip, when he drove baseline and dribbled the ball out of bounds.
“I was just too energized, too fast. But I could anticipate that. It was just the excitement being here, playing against my ex-team,” Gortat said after posting 14 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. “It was obvious I'm going to make the first few mistakes. It was a great battle. It was just fun to play here and fun to beat that team. It's not only my ex-team, but it's also a great team, and we proved we can play against anybody.”
Trevor Ariza, struggling for much of this month, scored a game-high 23 points and also recorded four steals as the Wizards forced 21 turnovers and held the Suns to just 38 second-half points.
“It was just defensive intensity,” Ariza said after the Wizards became just the 15th team to hold the Suns below 100 points this season. “When we press up defensively and make stops, it ignites our offense. It's what gets me going. When we play good defense, we're a good team.”
Before boarding the plane for a four-game road West Coast trip, Wittman sat down with John Wall, counseling him not to try to do too much. Wall had attempted a season-high 29 shots in the loss to Boston and accepted blame afterward for taking attempts away from his teammates.
Wall responded by having one his most efficient and steady performances, finding the proper balance between setting up his teammates and taking his own shots. Wall finished with 18 points, 12 assists and two steals, spending a good portion of the night chasing around Suns point guard Goran Dragic.
Dragic had a team-high 19 points and 11 assists, including an incredible pass through Gortat's legs that ended with a vicious two-handed dunk by Plumlee that brought the Suns within 97-95. Beal answered with another pull-up jumper, then finished the game by rebounding a Dragic missed layup, dribbling the length of the floor and throwing down a one-handed jam.
“It was 11 seconds, we’re up four, I was like, ‘I’d rather score and be up six than something crazy happen like that. I heard one of my teammates scream no, but I already made up my mind,” said Beal, adding that the win was special for Gortat. “It was terrific. Marc was energized, ready to go. He told, ‘I need you to get this win.’ I said, ‘We’re going to get it Marc. We got you. We got you.’ ”
The Wizards (21-21) have their best record in six years and will have another opportunity to go above .500 on Saturday when they travel to Salt Lake City to play the Utah Jazz.
“I was proud of all of them,” Wittman said. “I thought everybody that came in and gave us a big lift. Brad did, no question. He hit a couple of big shots there. I thought our defensive in the second half was outstanding. It was a team win.”