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The Bradley Beal-Thomas Bryant bond is getting stronger with every game

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On Sunday, Bradley Beal collected his second career triple-double, performed as if he belongs among the NBA’s top guards and nearly led the Washington Wizards to a stunning statement win against the best team in the East, the Toronto Raptors. But Beal, as he shined during a comeback bid that fell short in a 140-138 double-overtime loss, just missed reaching one specific career milestone, and it’s likely because he trusts center Thomas Bryant so much.

Beal made 17 of 36 shots for a game-high 43 points. Although he had plenty of time to launch his 37th attempt from the field, which would have tied his career high, Beal didn’t take another shot in the final 3:59 of the second overtime.

The Raptors’ defense had something to do with that. In the closing seconds, Beal was funneled to the baseline and forced to pass to Jeff Green, open in the right corner, during a sequence that concluded with Otto Porter Jr.’s missed three. The Wizards didn’t get a shot off on their final possession.

But Toronto can’t take all the credit. It’s likely Beal didn’t take another shot because of his on-court chemistry with Bryant.

The Beal and Bryant two-man game grew in a big way during the center’s 14-for-14 shooting game against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 22, and it thrived against the Raptors. After Beal missed his last field goal attempt — a pullup jumper from 16 feet — he turned into a creator for Bryant.

Since Bryant’s promotion to the starting lineup, he has feasted off Beal’s facilitation and gained his trust. Entering Sunday’s game, Beal had delivered 26 assists to Bryant. Only Markieff Morris (27) and Porter (30) have gained more from Beal’s benevolence. Bryant, who has made 26 of 51 attempts from those assists, owns the highest field goal percentage on shots made off Beal’s passes among all of his regular-rotation teammates.

In that December game against the Suns, Beal sent 15 passes to Bryant, who made seven shots directly off those deliveries, according to statistics.

“We tried to build that trust ever since I got into the starting lineup,” said Bryant, who finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots Sunday. “[Beal] knows that I will always be there for him, no matter if it’s a pop or a roll. We’re just trying to get some eye contact with each other and try to always be on the same page.”

This bond showed in the closing minute of double overtime, when Beal and Bryant succeeded in this basketball truth: if an extra defender comes over, someone’s open. So, when Toronto guard Danny Green and center Serge Ibaka tracked Beal around the perimeter and inside the arc, he sent a bounce pass to Bryant in the restricted area with 1:02 to play. About 30 seconds later, the Beal and Bryant pick and roll again compelled Ibaka to stay on the all-star while the second-year center was left open.

Bryant’s bucket off the well-executed play gave Washington a 138-136 lead, but soon after Beal and Bryant slapped low fives in celebration, Ibaka spoiled their moment by draining an open three. The Raptors never trailed again.

Still, the buddy system between Beal and Bryant continues to blossom.

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