The Washington Wizards blew another double-digit lead Saturday night, the team’s fourth loss in five games, which undoubtedly was the reason behind Bradley Beal shaking his head at his locker. But a deeper level of disappointment emerged in the 108-105 defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers: Not only do the veteran Wizards have problems in holding leads, but this season they’ve lacked the clutch gene.
Through their 10-9 start, the Wizards have played in five games in which they were tied or trailing by one possession within the final minute of regulation. In those situations, the team has missed all 11 attempts from the field — including seven blown three-point attempts — resulting in five losses, according to “clutch” statistics on NBA.com. No other team in the league has attempted more than six shots in this scenario without hitting at least one bucket.
That troubling trend again appeared Saturday night. Washington led the Blazers 94-77 at the 8:14 mark in the fourth quarter, but trailed 106-105 after Portland’s C.J. McCollum hit a jumper with 21 seconds remaining in the game. Beal, who is expected to fill the role of offensive alpha male in John Wall’s absence, had two chances to hit a clutch shot of his own. He couldn’t answer McCollum. Beal missed a 16-foot pull-up jumper with 6.5 seconds to go, then after Portland hit a pair of free throws and extended the lead to three points, he clanked a game-tying triple off the rim.
Beal thought the three-point attempt felt good off his hands. He’s made 707 in his career, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to reach that milestone, so he certainly knows a good three when he shoots one, but jostling for a foul might have cost him. Beal searched for contact from defender Shabazz Napier — a call that rarely happens in the closing seconds of the game — forcing him to lean in and host an off-balance shot.
Beal immediately turned to the nearest official, believing he was fouled. After the game, however, Beal did not look to blame anyone else.
“I definitely put that on my shoulders,” Beal said, “because I’ve got to close the game out a lot better.”
Beal took personal responsibility for the team’s failure, and his words should not ring hollow. While leading the Wizards in shot attempts (18.4) and points per game (24.2) this season, Beal has taken more of those clutch-time shots than any of his teammates. Among Washington’s 11 attempts when tied or trailing by three points in the final minute, Beal has missed six of them, including a trio from beyond the arc.
Wall, who is expected to sit out approximately two weeks after receiving platelet-rich plasma injections in his inflamed left knee, has missed four shots in those one-possession games, while Jodie Meeks missed a jumper in the final eight seconds during the team’s 120-117 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 27 — the game in which Beal was ejected for tussling with Draymond Green in the first half.
While it’s one thing to watch a 17-point advantage disappear — as the Wizards did against Portland — it’s another to not have a fail-safe of shot-making late in a game. With all of Washington’s offensive firepower, there should be a reasonable expectation for the team to make a tough shot when it’s absolutely necessary. Saturday night, the Wizards instead tightened up as the game grew closer.
Although Washington held a seemingly comfortable seven-point lead in the final 2:30, the team missed its final six shots to close the game. Overall, the Wizards are shooting 37.9 percent when ahead by at least five points or tied within the final three minutes of play — the fourth-worst field goal percentage in the league.
“We let a lead go that we should’ve had and taken advantage of and we didn’t do the right things down the stretch to secure the win and it came back and haunted us in the end,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “We just got to do a better job in taking our time and when we have the lead and time’s on our side, we’ve got to capitalize on that.”
Though Beal showed his silent disapproval in front of his locker Saturday night, he flashed a more defiant side just before leaving the arena. When asked about the increased responsibility in the clutch that he must shoulder without Wall, Beal responded that he’s ready for the challenge and vowed fearlessness, despite going 0 for 6 in clutch moments.
“Just keep shooting it,” Beal said. “Coach trusts me to make the right play and be aggressive with the ball. My teammates have faith in me. Coach has faith in me and I for sure have faith in myself. So I’m going to continue to shoot it until my arm falls off. And I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.”