This time around Beal is more than established, finishing twice as the league’s No. 2 scorer and looking to snatch a game away from the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. Beal moved around the arc before Saturday’s game, wearing his trademark headband, white headphones and a black mask, burying jumper after jumper as four staffers rebounded and kicked the ball out.
Beal knocked down his first two shots of the game — a dribble-drive layup after curling off a pick and a pull-up jumper from the elbow — on his way to 25 points, but that wasn’t nearly enough as the 76ers cruised to a 132-103 victory. Philadelphia leads the series 3-0 with a chance to slam the door shut Monday.
“Brad’s a hooper, man,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “That guy just loves to play and plays hard. He hasn’t shot the ball well from three, but he just gives you everything he has. Right now, he’s not happy. None of us are. But he’s going to keep leading the group; that’s what he does. Couldn’t ask for a better leader.
“He’ll come back and give it his all the next game. That’s what he does. He’s a winning basketball player. Unfortunately we haven’t won yet in this series. But he impacts winning as well as anybody in the league.”
Beal’s spectacular play in the final stretch of the season, which included 42-, 45- and 50-point gems, helped propel the Wizards into the play-in tournament and secure the No. 8 seed. There was no falloff against the 76ers as he opened the first two games with a pair of 33-point performances. The scoring dropped off a bit in Game 3 as the three-point shot (1 for 8) wasn’t falling, but the body of work was no less spectacular despite his frustration.
“I won’t play the way I did tonight the next game,” Beal said.
The 6-foot-3 Florida product has consistently given the 76ers’ defense a bit of everything to try to stop. He slithers, weaves and curls around picks without the ball looking to cut for a layup or find a bit of space for a catch-and-shoot. There’s the power drive as he attacks the basket, but as soon as defenders commit, Beal can stop on a dime for a step-back or fadeaway jumper. In the third quarter, he showed it can be as simple as dribbling to the corner and pulling up for a three regardless of how the defense plays.
This series — and the entire season — has been another step in the maturation of the Wizards’ franchise player. Beal officially grabbed the mantle when John Wall was traded, and there was some question whether he was a true No. 1 despite consecutive all-star appearances in 2018 and 2019 and a career-high 30.5 points per game in 2019-20. Beal upped the average to 31.3 points in 2020-21 while he and Russell Westbrook dragged the team across the playoff finish line. Additionally, he quieted the chorus of skeptics who worried that Beal and Westbrook wouldn’t be compatible on the floor. Westbrook set the franchise record for triple-doubles in his first season in Washington, while Beal became just the sixth player since the NBA-ABA merger to average 30-plus points in back-to-back seasons. He was narrowly edged out by MVP candidate Stephen Curry for the scoring title.
“My production and my growth has just been that,” Beal said, “I take pride in getting better each and every game and, obviously, in the offseason getting better. Granted, I’ve had some opportunities to be able to do a little bit more for my team. And in those opportunities, I had some success, and I just stayed with it.
“Coach trusts me, teammates and the organization trusts me to just continue to lead and kind of be the franchise focal point. Obviously, I still have a long way to go and still have a lot of room to go. But I’m definitely not the same player I was two years ago in that series.”
As that leader, Beal has a simple message for his teammates going into Game 4 with the odds stacked against them: Embrace it. Embrace the situation. Embrace the challenge. Embrace the opportunity.
“This is the best job in the world. … Don’t take it for granted; enjoy it,” Beal said.