Beal became the 10th player age 20 or younger to score at least 25 points in a playoff game, joining Magic Johnson (twice), Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony (twice), Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, Derrick Rose (twice), Stephon Marbury, Harrison Barnes (twice) and Brandon Jennings (twice).
“It’s an honor, but I can’t take all the credit because my teammates do a great job of helping me get there, and coaches as well,” Beal said when told about the achievement. “It’s a huge accomplishment and I still think I have a lot more to prove, a lot more to do.”
The Wizards are back home for Game 3 with a 2-0 lead largely because their youngest player refused to let his team fold when it trailed by 10 points with about seven minutes left in regulation. Martell Webster hit a three-pointer to start the 14-4 run to end the fourth period, but Beal scored nine of the final 11 points by hitting two three-pointers, a difficult runner in traffic and a free throw to tie the game at 91.
“That’s what we need him to do,” Trevor Ariza said. “He’s a scorer, so go score the ball. I don’t think he did anything different than what he’s been doing all year. He’s got on rolls throughout the season where he’s had 10, 12 straight. What he did tonight wasn’t a surprise to me. It wasn’t a surprise to anybody in this locker room. He came through when we needed him.”
Beal was the Wizards’ second-leading scorer in the regular season and he is in the same spot in the playoffs, averaging 19.5 points. After a rough shooting night in his postseason debut, Beal bounced back by hitting four three-pointers in his second game. The second-year shooting guard was most effective against Bulls’ best perimeter defender, Jimmy Butler, scoring 13 points on 4 of 5 shooting when defended by Butler.
“It’s pretty cool. I’m humbled by it,” Beal said. “It’s awesome for me to be one of the core guys on the team and be put in this situation. It’s a blessing within itself and I just embrace it.”
Beal had the opportunity to join the 20-and-under list because he joined the Wizards on the tail end of their rebuild. Surrounded by veterans such as Ariza, Nene, Martell Webster and Emeka Okafor as rookie, Beal was able to quickly learn from their professional approaches to the game. Marcin Gortat replaced Okafor but has helped the team maintain a workmanlike attitude. Even with an improved team, Beal has been looked upon as one of the leaders and he relishes carrying a huge responsibility along with the 23-year-old John Wall.
“Brad’s made a good step this year,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Basically, as a rookie, you never know what you’re going to get out of a 19-year-old kid, coming into this league and I thought he handled this as good as I would expect a 19-year-old kid to handle the full season. This year, he’s more mature already. I think he’s added to his game and he can do more off the dribble, get to the free throw line. He’s just not a spot up three-point shooter. He’s developed his game and he’s got to continue to do that. I those are the strides that we’ve seen, as well as we’ve talked about John’s first couple of years in the league and what he’s done. If those guys stay committed in continuing to improve their games as they move forward, we’ve got a lot to be excited about.”
Wittman tried to express to Wall and Beal that the postseason will be much different than any type of basketball that they’ve experienced in the past but really didn’t know what to expect once the series began. “You have to get out there and do it. The focus is just what stood out to me. I like what I saw,” Wittman said. “I thought they’ve done a good job so far. It’s only going to be more intensified.”
Beal rarely looks rattled on the floor and even cracked a smile when he exchanged a few arm slaps and elbows with Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich in Game 2. Though the game has become more physical and the scrutiny has increased, Beal has found success by understanding the moment without being overwhelmed by it.
“Once I start playing it feels like another game, except the intensity is a lot higher,” Beal said. “I just have fun at the end of the day.”
And with the Wizards having an opportunity to go up 3-0 on the Bulls on Friday, Beal knows that his team can’t let up. “We got to stay humble. We haven’t done anything. We’ve got to put ourselves in their shoes and how we would play if we were in that situation. They’re going to be desperate and they need to win badly. It’s the first team to four. So we’re definitely going to have to battle it out. We got to come out like our backs are against the wall.”