The Wizards' effort not only spoiled Beal's individual achievement but prompted some of the strongest criticism of the season from Coach Scott Brooks.
"We're playing soft. It's pretty simple," Brooks said. "We're playing soft. We're playing just comfortable, and it's disappointing."
In two games after the all-star break, the Wizards (20-35) have lost all signs of their previous momentum. On Friday night, they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. On Sunday, they trailed by 25 points against the Bulls (20-38), who had been heading in that direction.
Brooks noted that in the loss to the Cavaliers, his team fouled on seven made shots that led to potential three-point plays. The Wizards continued hacking instead of defending Sunday, giving the Bulls nine and-one continuation plays.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team that gave up 16 and-ones in two nights. It’s disappointing,” Brooks said. “We talk about growing and playing with some toughness. [In the] last two [games that] just wasn’t the case.”
The term “playing soft” didn’t rankle Beal. He adamantly agreed with his coach.
“I put myself in that group, too. I can be better on the defensive end and all-around game,” Beal said. “I think we all could be better. Coach is absolutely right. I think the last two games, we didn’t show any resistance on the defensive end. None of us. So it just comes done to how bad we really want to make this push.”
Before facing the Wizards, Chicago had dropped a season-high eight straight games, and cameras caught star player Zach LaVine expressing his annoyance Saturday night after Coach Jim Boylen called a late timeout during a loss to the Phoenix Suns. The Bulls — with their injuries, youth and signs of disunity boiling over before they played the Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back — should have afforded Washington an opportunity to bounce back from the Cleveland loss.
Instead, a Bulls team that entered with the fourth-lowest scoring average in the NBA went for 73 points in the first half. LaVine was able to channel any lingering anger by scoring freely: During a stretch in the second quarter, he scored nine points in less than two minutes and finished with 32 points. And a rookie fresh off a career high needed less than 24 hours to match his big scoring total and do LaVine one better.
Coby White scored 33 points for the second consecutive night, becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan in 1984 and the only first-year bench player in league history to score at least 30 points in consecutive games.
“We talked about him this morning,” Brooks said of White. “We talked about him before the game, and we gave him everything he wanted.”
Washington’s inability to guard the three-point arc continued throughout the first half, when Chicago made 12 of 22 (54.5 percent) from long distance. White caused so much trouble with his 16-point outburst in the first quarter that he began to see additional defenders in the second. In the final two minutes of the half, when White skated around Ish Smith, the Wizards shifted toward him but abandoned Ryan Arcidiacono for an open three beyond the left wing.
A couple of possessions later, LaVine turned into the facilitator. With the same game plan — dribbling inside to draw the defense before finding the open teammate — he hit White in the corner to expose Washington with another three.
After the late burst, Chicago led 73-58 at halftime.
The Bulls quickly made it 83-58 less than two minutes into the third quarter. When the Wizards called a timeout, players returned to the sideline, sullen and speechless. Beal leaned back in his padded folding chair and stared across the court. But the Wizards, to their credit, didn’t stay down for long. Beal refused to rest in the fourth quarter — entering with 10:09 remaining and staying in the game until there were 50 seconds left — and his 21 points in the quarter helped Washington cut into the lead.
Beal finished a three-point play with 6:38 left, pulling the Wizards within 110-103. The rally abruptly ended, however, as Chicago poured in more threes and dunks. The Wizards had lost another chance to build off their work before the all-star break, when they had won five of their previous seven.
“It’s not embarrassing to lose against an NBA team,” Brooks said, “but it’s embarrassing not to compete like an NBA team.”
Beal, whose career-high scoring night left him with 11,103 points, ahead of Malone’s 11,083, described the individual highlights as blessings. But the team’s “soft” play put a damper on his achievements.
“It’s amazing to see [my dreams] unraveling right in front of me, but at the same time, you know, I’m a winner. You can throw all 53 of those away if we don’t have a [win] next to it,” Beal said. “Just got to keep pushing. I’m just going to try to win, whatever it looks like. I’m just going to keep pushing, keep fighting till the end.”
Read more on the NBA: