Bradley Beal wore a black backpack with the image of a snarling Rottweiler as he left Capital One Arena on Friday night. He also carried the heaviness of regret on his shoulders.
Beal had the last shot for the Washington Wizards to expunge a 25-point deficit and pull off a stunning comeback against the Miami Heat. He balked at an open three-pointer that could have given his team the lead, instead opting for a 17-footer that bounced off the rim, sealing a 91-88 loss.
"I'm still debating in my head if I should've shot the three," Beal said in the locker room afterward.
Beal almost single-handedly revived Washington after the team played its worst half of basketball in two years. He confidently pulled up from beyond the arc, hitting the threes that had eluded the team throughout the first half. Beal scored 22 of his game-high 26 points in the second half.
He had the hot hand but had to do it alone, with running mate John Wall looking a step slow. Bothered by a swollen knee, Wall never found his speed or his rhythm during a 3-for-12 shooting night, finishing with eight points and eight assists. So when Washington trailed 90-88 with five seconds remaining, the Wizards needed the ball in Beal's hands.
"He could have shot a three," Wall said, "but he didn't feel comfortable with it."
Beal saw his defender aggressively closing in, so he passed up an attempt from deep — where he had made 5 of 10 attempts in the second half — and instead decided to drive. Make Miami expect a play at the rim, he thought, then stop and drill a shot from midrange.
"That's a shot I make every day," Beal said.
"It was a great shot," Coach Scott Brooks said. "He had a wide open three; he could have taken that one. One dribble pull-up is hard to stop because he pulls up on a dime, he has great lift on his jump shot. Couldn't ask for a better look. Unfortunate it didn't go down. It would have been a fun overtime game."
Miami collected the rebound and added a late free throw to seal it, thwarting a spirited Wizards comeback after a lackluster first half that produced just 29 points.
The Wizards players who watched the first half from the bench wore pained expressions. After Miami hit one of its six threes, center Marcin Gortat sat on the sideline and dropped his head. Jason Smith turned his face and squinted.
Frustrated fans, however, did not stay quiet. When Markieff Morris drew a double-team and committed a turnover, leading to Justise Winslow's fast-break dunk, the boo birds among the announced crowd of 17,551 found their voices. On the next Wizards possession, Beal threw the ball away, and Dion Waiters laid in a pass from Goran Dragic, and the home crowd's heckles amplified.
The Wizards' deficit swelled to 25 points, the starters were not producing, and when Capital One Arena fell silent, a voice cried out for Smith, the reserve big man.
Washington missed all 13 attempts from beyond the three-point arc in the first half. The poor shooting was reflected in the defense; Miami scored 19 points in transition before halftime. During the matchup Wednesday night, the Heat finished with only two fast-break points.
"We didn't make shots. We got down on ourselves," Brooks said. "When we got down on ourselves, we put our heads down instead of running back and making up for it on the other end. The stats basically tell you that. They had 19 fast-break points in the first half."
The half was the Wizards' least productive since March 23, 2015, when the team totaled 27 after halftime in a blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors.
When Smith stepped onto the floor in the third quarter, his energy and hustle infected the Wizards. In that frame, Washington outscored Miami 28-16 as Smith joined the bench unit. Smith finished with five points, while Jodie Meeks, who provided another three-point threat beyond Beal, scored nine points, which included a pair of threes.
"We are tired of putting ourselves in those kinds of situations," Smith said of the team needing a big comeback. "We know it is about us competing out there in the first half. We cannot dig ourselves a hole and expect to climb out of it, especially on our home floor. Something we have to get better at. We'll look at a lot of film — that is for sure — and move forward from it."
Beal pledged the same. But late Friday night, the shot played heavy on his mind.
After the buzzer, Beal watched a replay of the final sequence. He shook his head when asked about taking a two over that three, and the regret turned to quiet anger.
"I'm a little pissed off at myself," Beal said. "I'll have another opportunity to do it again, in a situation again, and it'll be a different result."
Note: When asked whether his knee could force him to miss Sunday's game at Toronto, Wall was non-committal: "I don't know. Depends on how I feel tonight and how I feel" Saturday.