“I start thinking to myself, ‘Really? We haven’t even been through a first quarter yet,’ ” Brooks said with a chuckle. “But you could tell, just in our meeting this morning, that he had a little bit more pep in his step. You could just tell.”
Beal ended up playing 37 minutes, and alongside Russell Westbrook and a cadre of role players making exactly the right contributions at exactly the right moment, the Wizards pulled off a 125-121 win in Salt Lake City that snapped the Jazz’s streak of 24 straight home wins.
Washington (20-33) improved its record against the top five teams in the Western Conference to, improbably, 7-2.
“I didn’t know they had 24 straight wins at home until after the game,” Beal said. “That’s a testament to them, I’ve been a part of something like that a few years ago, we won 17 straight at home. ... We played really well tonight, aggressive on the defensive end and made a lot of things tough for them. This is a team, first in three pointers attempted and first in three pointers made, a lot of guys shooting high 40′s, 50 [percent] from three, so we definitely had our hands full. I love how we accepted all the challenges and made it tough for them.”
Beal led the Wizards with 34 points on 14-for-31 shooting that spurred them to a win even as he missed a crucial pair of free throws with 12.3 seconds to play that put Utah (40-14) within two points of the lead. The guard got a huge helping hand from sharpshooter Davis Bertans, who had a modest 10 points but a pivotal three three-pointers in the third quarter that gave the Wizards a 10-point lead that bloomed into a 19-point cushion early in the fourth.
“The timing,” Brooks said of Bertans’s performance, “the timing was critical.”
The gap was wide enough that the Jazz couldn’t complete its comeback despite a 21-point performance from Donovan Mitchell in the fourth quarter.
Westbrook, Beal’s backcourt mate, had a little something to do with the fourth-quarter closeout, too. The point guard’s jumper with 32 seconds remaining bumped the Wizards back up to a six-point lead. Beyond that, he notched his fifth straight triple-double, and 23rd of the season, with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists.
Third-string center Daniel Gafford added 15 points and backup center Robin Lopez added 10, the pair combining with starter Alex Len to best Jazz star big man Rudy Gobert (12 points, 12 rebounds).
“They all give us a little bit different, Gafford gives us a lot of bit different,” Brooks said of his three-center rotation. “His minutes and his efficiency have been really good, because he keeps it simple. Gets something at the rim, catches lobs, runs the floor, contests shots.”
Mitchell led all scorers with 42 points, and Bojan Bogdanovic added a season-high 33 as the Jazz soldiered on without two of its top three scorers as Jordan Clarkson (ankle sprain) and Mike Conley (hamstring) sat out with injuries.
Beal just beat Mitchell in a battle of dueling stars in a tight first half, scoring 23 points with flawless jumpers and one particularly spectacular reverse layup that evaded Gobert’s outstretched hand and helped the Wizards take a 70-65 lead heading into the locker room.
Washington took its edge in the second quarter, when Mitchell had just two points after pouring in 17 in the first on 7-for-10 shooting from the field. Beal took over and Isaac Bonga stepped in for Rui Hachimura, who was on the bench with three fouls. Bonga was one of a few critical role players who contributed piecemeal minutes that together made a big difference — he and Raul Neto had a three-pointer each, and Lopez had eight points in the paint.
Beal’s scoring haul, while not unusual for the NBA’s leading scorer, was notable given that the guard missed Saturday’s loss in Phoenix with back tightness. He is also managing a hip injury that caused him to miss five games recently, though didn’t look hampered at all Monday.