INDIANAPOLIS – Bradley Beal dropped his head and walked off the floor, with assistant coach Sam Cassell consoling him, after the Wizards’ 95-92 loss in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers.
Thoughts raced through his mind about how the Wizards frittered away a 19-point second-half lead. He kicked himself over his missed layup midway through the fourth quarter, his missed three-pointer in the final minute and his miscommunication with Trevor Ariza that resulted in a turnover on the Wizards’ last possession.
By the time he walked to the podium, wearing a backpack and a lime green bow tie, Beal had accepted the defeat – but he wasn’t willing to concede that the series is over despite the Wizards being one loss from the end of their season. The No. 1 seed Pacers still have to win four games and right now, they only have three. Beal believes that is enough of an opening heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Most definitely,” Beal said. “Anything can happen in the playoffs. By no means is my head hanging low or is this team’s head low. Yeah, they won…three straight but at the same time, we have a chance to make something. We’ve got to take it one day at a time, one game at a time. We’ve shown we can beat them there. We just have to keep playing with confidence. We can’t show no signs of weakness or that we’ve given up because we’re down 3-1. Hopefully we can get these next three and try to beat them.”
Only eight of the 194 teams to fall behind 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have ever come back to win. The Phoenix Suns are the last team to rally from such a deficit to win a series, claiming three straight victories over the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.
The Indiana Pacers have never lost a series in the six times that they have taken such a lead. Washington has only come back one time when trailing in that situation, in 1979. The Wizards trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 in the franchise’s previous playoff appearance, won Game 5 on the road and eventually lost in six games.
Beal scored 25 points in the Wizards only win this series, which made him the focus of Indiana’s best perimeter defender, Paul George. After George helped limit him to a combined 33 points on 13 of 34 shooting in the next two games, Beal got loose for 20 points, on 7-for-14 shooting, with five assists, five rebounds and three steals in Game 4.
“I thought Brad was aggressive,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “He ain’t going to score 40 every night. I thought Brad stayed aggressive, took his opportunities. I thought Bradley came out right from the start and gave us a good play.”
But Beal only scored three points in the fourth quarter, as the tireless George continued to hound him and make him work for nearly every shot he fired. “I give him all the credit in the world because he’s definitely made my job tough,” Beal said. “At the same time, I’ve got to do a better job of getting him tired as best as I can. He’s definitely a great defender. It’s a sign of respect for me. At the same time, I’ve got to figure out ways to put the ball in the basket.”
George wasn’t all that Beal had to contend with down the stretch. Beal received treatment in the second half after bumping his left knee in a collision but doesn’t expect it to affect him in Game 5.
“It’s fine, I got banged up a little bit,” Beal said. “On the side of my knee, it’s a little sore but I should be all right.”
Beal also was the only Wizards starter with a positive plus-minus (plus-nine), because he got to share some significant minutes on the floor with reserves Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Martell Webster. Every backup to play more than one minute had a positive plus-minus.
“We were just playing. At the end of the day, we were just playing the way we know we’re capable of playing, getting stops, which was most important and making some shots. We were moving the ball. Everybody got to touch it. We were screening for each other and most important, we were having fun and that’s what we’ve got to get back to doing.”