Bradley Beal is bound to have a night or three his rookie season when his celebrated poise will be tested, when he will show some fatigue from playing a lot of games in a short period of time and when his opponents will test him with some physical play.
Beal had one of those nights on Wednesday during the Wizards’ 104-101 loss in Toronto, where the Raptors challenged the 19-year-old on both ends and made sure that he fell more times than his textbook jumper. He continued his preseason string of consecutive games scoring in double figures and his stat line – 11 points, three rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes – wasn’t too bad.
But Beal certainly wasn’t pleased with his performance, and not just because his potential tying three-pointer was blocked in final seconds.
“I didn’t play so well,” Beal said. “I know there are a lot of things I could’ve done a lot better, on both ends of the floor.”
Coach Randy Wittman brought Beal off the bench against the Raptors and it took him some time to get into an offensive rhythm. He was scoreless in the first half, missed his first three shots and didn’t score until he made two free throws with 2 minutes 16 seconds left in the third quarter. Those free throws came after he stole the ball from Raptors reserve Ed Davis and Davis shoved him into the basket stanchion to keep him from scoring.
The Raptors roughed up Beal as he came around screens and greeted him with a bump or elbow every time he put the ball on the floor and thought about driving.
“He allowed guys to kind of dictate to him defensively. Getting into him, shoving him, pushing him. And guys are going to do that,” Wittman said. “And hey listen, when guys find out what kind of player you are, they are going to get into you, push you. They are going to hold you and do those things. Until he got [upset] there in the end, he kind of just accepted it. He’s got to make sure he doesn’t allow those things to happen.”
Beal didn’t necessarily have it easy in his first four preseason games, but he didn’t seem prepared for what the Raptors were throwing at him. He also was growing increasingly frustrated that no matter how closely he contested Jose Calderon, the veteran point guard kept making three-pointers over him.
“I was like, ‘What else can I do more?’ ” Beal said.
Beal finally revealed his frustration when he made a three-pointer that gave the Wizards a 93-90 lead, shouted and glared at Calderon.
“It’s just my passion for the game,” Beal said. “It was a pretty big shot. I guess my emotions got the best of me that time. It was probably the first time I’ve done it all year, just showed my emotions like that. It gave me a boost of confidence.”
Beal has impressed his teammates, coaches, opponents and the Wizards’ brass with his consistency and composure throughout the preseason. He has held his own against Brooklyn Nets all-star guard Joe Johnson, had game-altering scoring outbursts against New York and Cleveland and hasn’t displayed or felt any nerves about experiencing his first go-around through the NBA. Teammate Trevor Ariza said this week, “This is not even the surface of what he can do.”
But Wittman, who has urged the No. 3 overall pick not to “take a back seat,” noticed a different Beal in Toronto. “Didn’t have the same bounce, I don’t think,” he said. With the Wizards (1-4) playing their fourth game in seven nights, Beal admitted that he was a bit worn down.
“I have to be mentally prepared every game,” said Beal, who leads the Wizards in scoring (14.2 points) and minutes (26.6) this preseason. “With games like this, so many games back to back, your mind gets tired and your body gets tired. But I mean, it’s something you have to fight through.”
His biggest takeaway from the night? That was simple.
“Be physical back,” Beal said. “In a smart way. I know guys may bump you, push you or whatever. But that’s a part of the game. You can’t cry or complain about a foul or get knocked down and don’t do anything about it. Sometimes, I got knocked down and I just kept running, and I kept playing. But I have to be more aggressive, be more assertive.”
Beal then slipped on an all-black St. Louis Cardinals cap that matched his black T-shirt and jeans, grabbed a plate of food in the back of the locker room and headed to the team bus. The Wizards were headed back home to Washington and Beal had a better understanding of what’s ahead when the season really begins.