The play started like so many Washington Wizards‘ fast breaks. John Wall slinging a half-court pass to Bradley Beal. A wide-open rim waiting for Beal’s creative finish. However on Saturday night, a typical transition moment was turned on its head when Milwaukee Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova attempted to stop the play by essentially clotheslining Beal and sending him to the hardwood.
The fourth-quarter play earned Dellavedova an ejection and sparked instant, and understandable, outrage from Beal and the Wizards. Following Washington’s 110-103 loss to Milwaukee, emotions had cooled but the hot takes boiled within the Wizards.
“It’s a professional respect that you want to play with,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “You want to play physical, you want to play tough but you don’t want to go out there and put your opponent in a tough position.”
“C’mon, man. He could’ve got a concussion,” John Wall said. “He’s going full speed and you snatch him back. He could’ve hit his head on the floor and got a concussion.”
As for Beal, who fell unprotected on his back but sprung to his feet to confront Dellavedova, he summed up the play as a non-basketball move.
“There’s no place in the game for that,” Beal said. “I don’t care. There’s a difference between making a play on the ball and wrapping your arms around somebody’s neck.”
Dellavedova has built a reputation as a hard-working hustler — but occasionally going over the edge of accepted aggressiveness. In 2016, Dellavedova was voted the dirtiest player by NBA coaches and players in a Los Angeles Times poll and he has a history of sparking controversy after questionable encounters against several players, including the mild-mannered Al Horford, who was ejected in the 2015 playoffs for a foul against Dellavedova. Now add Beal to the anti-Delly fan club.
“For the ref to run there and jump in front of it, it lets you know what type of foul it was and what type of reaction he thought he would get from Brad,” Wall said. “You very rarely get a reaction from him, so it had to be very [bad].”
On Saturday, Dellavedova described the foul as his way of playing hard defense.
“Wall threw the ball up to Beal and I tried to run him off the three,” Dellavedova explained. “He decides to drive it, so I tried to hold him up and he slipped because he went down. I was just trying to hold him to prevent him from getting the and-one, and then he just went to the ground.”
However, Wall viewed Dellavedova’s actions as potentially dangerous.
“It’s a difference,” Wall responded, when asked about being aggressive versus playing dirty. “That’s not the type of play you do and then just stand there like nothing happened. If we do that to somebody, their team is going to react the same exact way. He’s known for undercutting guys, trying to box them out and stuff like that. I give no credit for that. I give credit for him for being a hard player, that’s hard-nosed. One of the old-school type of players that play very physical. I give him credit for that. But when it comes to doing dirty plays, I have no respect for it.”
Before the flagrant-2 foul in an unrelated moment, Wall and Dellavedova exchanged words. Dellavedova protested that the Wizards were getting too many fouls. Wall countered that Dellavedova was hand-checking in the game and getting away with it.
“He plays super aggressive, sometimes overly aggressive,” Beal said. “That was always his knack ever since he came into the league, so I’m not sure what him and John had going on. But we didn’t have anything going on. That play was kind of crazy. I understand you want to stop the ball, commit a foul but there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing it.”
Beal defended his reaction following the flagrant foul, in which he placed a hand on official Kevin Scott.
“One thing I didn’t like is how the ref went after me versus trying to control him,” Beal said. “Like, I have a right to react the way I did. But it’s over.”
Scott was around the baseline and closest to the play when it happened. Even before Beal could pop up, Scott attempted to intercept him to prevent the incident from escalating. With Scott and teammate Jodie Meeks intervening, Beal never touched Dellavedova. Beal said he understands why officials need to keep everyone calm, but also explained that as he felt contact from Scott, his instincts took over.
“I mean, he put his hands on me,” Beal said. “So my reaction was: ‘no, why are you pushing me?’ Like, I’m not about to punch him. I’m not about to push him. I just want to know why [Dellavedova] did what he did. And granted, I don’t fault [Scott] for it. He’s doing his job. But at the end of the day, I feel like he still could’ve grabbed [Dellavedova] and pulled him back versus kind of nudging me back. I wasn’t trying to hit him or choke him or push him or anything. It was kind of a reaction.”