“He was naked,” Beal said, using a term to describe how open Morris was on the team’s final play with 0.8 seconds remaining. “It was a great look. I thought it was going in. That’s not what lost us the game either.”
According to Beal, the defense blew a chance to win on the road in the second night of a back-to-back set. Though speaking in his customary smooth baritone that’s reminiscent of an R&B crooner, Beal expressed strong criticism that was hard to misinterpret.
“We’ve got to find a way to be able to get stops and to be able to score the ball. We’ve got to do one or the other,” Beal said after the Wizards dropped to 1-4. “The biggest thing we can control is our defense and that’s all about effort and wanting to play. I think coach is pretty fed up with the way we’re playing and I think he’s going to start playing guys who want to play and guys who want to show up.”
Taking a closer look at Beal’s words, and you will see a rebuke aimed at a particular group.
Through three quarters, the Magic shot 36.2 percent from the floor and 28.6 from beyond the three-point arc. At that time, the Wizards led 70-61 and held control of the game. Obviously, Beal was not referring to the defense that had led Washington to this point.
Beal’s commentary was meant for the fourth quarter when the Magic erased a 10-point deficit, running off 16 straight points while making 10 of 20 shots. It’s no coincidence that four players from the Wizards’ much-maligned bench — Trey Burke, Marcus Thornton, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jason Smith — formed the unit when Orlando’s rally began.
In this opening stretch of the NBA season, Coach Scott Brooks has consistently tried to shield the reserves from absorbing most of the blame. Brooks promotes team togetherness and will say that the Wizards are not just a first unit and a second unit, but 10 rotational players pulling together. However as Brooks defends the bench, the statistics make a convincing case against them.
On Saturday, the Wizards were 15 points worse than the Magic when Burke and Smith were on the floor. Smith, who the Wizards signed away from Orlando in the offseason, particularly had a rough stretch. Before being replaced at the 8:39 mark of the fourth quarter, Smith had a traveling violation and bobbled away a couple of defensive rebounds. Smith has replaced the injured Ian Mahinmi as the backup center and in four games has averaged 1.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 turnovers in 9 minutes.
Smith left the court as Brooks made wholesale changes to the lineup, sending in three starters. However, the Wizards’ 10-point lead had shrunk to one at 74-73 and Orlando would soon take command. Though Beal briefly put on a cape, trying to save Washington with seven straight points to pull back ahead, the same shooting woes afflicting the bench transferred to the starters as Washington made only 1 of 10 shots to close the game — including the in-and-out three that brought Morris to his knees.
“You seen me. I smiled and threw my hands up. I thought it was good. It was a great look. You can’t fault him for it. We can’t depend on Kieff to be able to throw up a 30 footer and hit it for us. It was a great look,” Beal said, then repeated this: “But that’s not what lost us the game.”
This season, Beal does not expect to have minutes restrictions, nor rest in back-to-back games as John Wall will do through the foreseeable future. When asked if he’s prepared to carry a heavier load until the bench starts producing consistently, Beal accepted that possibility while also making another strong point.
“We’ll figure it out one way or another. Coach has talked about it a little bit but he doesn’t want to exert me too much or exert any of the other guys too much,” Beal said, “but we may have to.”
“We just got to work with what we got,” Beal continued. “Guys just have to start stepping up and playing. If they want to play, coach is going to play you and if you don’t, he’s going to sit you down so it’s just a matter of us just being disciplined in the second group and everybody being on the same page. I don’t think we’re always on the same page all the time … but at the end of the day I am prepared if (Brooks) does go that route.”