The evolution of John Wall and Bradley Beal can be best viewed from an outsider’s perspective.
In May 2014, Ian Mahinmi was a key reserve player for the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, who faced the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Back then, the Wizards were making their first postseason appearance in six seasons. Wall was in his fourth year of carrying the burden as franchise point guard. Beal wasn’t old enough to legally enjoy the goods from the cognac company that sponsored the Wizard Girls. Their youth and inexperience showed as the Pacers wrapped up the series in Game 6, on Washington’s home floor.
In that game, Beal needed 19 cracks at the rim just to get 16 points. Wall missed 9 of 16 shot attempts, including all four from beyond the three-point arc.
Three years later, the Wizards faced another elimination Game 6, and no longer did Wall and Beal have the appearance of wide-eyed fawns frozen by speeding headlights. Mettle replaced immaturity, as the pair traded clutch shots in the fourth quarter Friday night against the Boston Celtics. Then for the finale, the signature shot that will define Wall’s first seven years in the NBA: a gutsy three-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining in Washington’s 92-91 victory, a shot that Scott Brooks described as one of “the biggest shots I’ve seen, as a player or as a coach.”
On Monday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the pair will be relied upon again to carry the franchise to new heights. It will be the first Game 7 in Wall and Beal’s career — and the team’s first since the 1979 conference finals.
Mahinmi, who has played more Game 7s than anyone on the Wizards roster, expects it to be yet another opportunity to marvel at the development of his teammates who were once opponents.
“Now those guys are not babies anymore. They’re closers,” said Mahinmi, the Wizards’ backup center. “They’re proven closers.”
“You could tell, at the end of the game it was no hesitation from those two guys,” Mahinmi continued, then highlighted Beal’s three-pointer with 1:09 remaining after he had been 0 for 7 to that point. “Bradley came up and shot that three with full confidence. The whole entire stadium knew it was going in.”
Only three Wizards scored in the second half. Markieff Morris provided nine points, including an open three-pointer in the final quarter, while Beal and Wall took care of the heavy lifting. The duo combined for 42 of the team’s 51 second-half points, proving that a powerful pair can take on an entire team — seven Boston players pitched in through the second half and yet still got outscored.
Before the start of the 2016-17 season, Wall and Beal made headlines about their work relationship, or lack thereof. Wall even admitted how the two “have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.” Throughout the fourth quarter on Friday, the improved rapport showed as the backcourt played off one another. Wall delivered a pass to a cutting Beal for a reverse layup that tied the game with 9:05 remaining. Later, as Wall helped create a turnover by Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, Beal drilled that rally-starting three that trimmed the Wizards’ deficit to 87-85.
Off the court, their chemistry remains palpable. Their postgame podium interviews have become a deadpan comedy act. Following Game 4, Wall used a feminine pronoun for his jumper, explaining his 0-for-9 start was just a matter of “she’s just not acting right.” Beal, sharing the dais, chimed in: “That’s how it be. Sometimes she just don’t fall through that basket.” Friday night, the pair sensed another moment for chemistry, silently nodding in unison to a reporter’s question for comical effect.
Although the Wizards did not send Wall to speak to reporters on Saturday afternoon, one could draw a conclusion about his feelings on Beal. Earlier in the day, Wall retweeted a Game 6 story about Beal’s impact with the approving message: “For sure !!” Because without Beal’s big buckets, there would be no screaming on top of the scorer’s table.
Mahinmi said he had watched a replay of Wall’s three-pointer a “million times.” Though he may be given to enthusiastic exaggeration, Mahinmi could not help but exult in his new teammates. He’s seen the Wall and Beal from three years ago, and knows just how much they have grown.
“All those shots were like no hesitation,” Mahinmi said. “You could tell from the bench, you could tell from being on the floor, those guys are now calm when it comes down to taking the last shots and game-winning shots.”