His head dropped beneath a black snapback hat while covered by a dark-colored hoodie. His voice low and spirits even more subdued inside a joyless locker room, Bradley Beal didn’t look like a man fresh off setting a career high.
Beal had his best game ever as a playmaker Sunday night — and one of his worst as a clutch performer. Beal has elevated his game for the Washington Wizards without all-star comrade John Wall, but on Sunday night, his decisions were detrimental. His jump shot was scattered and his late-game execution cost the Wizards in a 98-95 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Beal logged nearly 43 minutes — another heavy load in the 16th consecutive game without Wall — but following the team’s third straight loss, he wouldn’t lean on a fatigue defense.
“It’s no excuse, man. I got to hit them shots. It’s just plain and simple,” Beal mumbled in a deep tenor. “I was tired, but you can’t half-ass carry a team. You got to go all out.”
To be certain, the Wizards (36-28) suffered a team loss as the Pacers (36-27) leapfrogged them in the standings to move into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Washington surrendered 30 points in the first quarter and spent the night clawing out of a deficit that expanded to 17 by the third quarter. However, Beal would not pardon his individual performance.
Beal compiled a career-high 11 assists, but he lost consecutive turnovers late in the fourth quarter and went 0 for 5 within the final 2½ minutes of a tight game. These low moments piled up, marring what could have been a turn in the narrative of Beal’s career as a closer.
Beal controlled the ball with less than four minutes to play, and with a chance to tie the score his pass in transition overshot 6-foot-11 center Ian Mahinmi. Beal reacted by turning away and biting the collar of his jersey. As disgusted as he might have been, Beal still followed that turnover by throwing a pass to Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. The Pacers scored off both mistakes and reconstructed the lead to six points.
Later, Beal had made two clutch free throws to pull the Wizards within 96-95 and once again had the ball. Beal drove to the rim with 19 seconds left in the game and a breakthrough moment seemingly on the way. He missed the layup. No go-ahead basket.
And no game-tying shot either. Beal had the final look from three to potentially force overtime, but his deep attempt veered off the mark. He finished just 2 for 9 from beyond the arc and shot 8 for 27 overall for an uneven 22 points.
Beal has the third-lowest field goal percentage (30.8) among players who have attempted at least 50 shots in “clutch” situations this season, according to statistics from NBA.com.
“They gave us opportunities,” Beal said. “I felt like I had a great shot in the paint. The guy kind of clipped me a little bit, but I still should’ve made that shot. I had another opportunity for a three at the end of the game, and they ran out. It was an easy pump fake and it was a three I should’ve hit, plain and simple. Great play Coach drew up.”
In his praise for Scott Brooks, Beal also indirectly defended the coach’s decision to shorten the rotation even though backup wing Kelly Oubre Jr. missed the game with a sore left foot.
Beal played the entire second half.
“It’s no excuse for me,” Beal said. “Every player wants to play. There’s guys who wish they can play and don’t play, so I can’t sit here and say that I’m tired. If I’m on the floor, I got to produce, and it’s just plain and simple. John’s out. That’s reality. And I have to step up more. The team does. But I’m going to play 37 or 40-plus minutes a night. That’s always my thought process going into a game. I’ll get my rest after the game.”
While Beal was inconsistent, the Pacers’ all-star, Oladipo, lived in the lane and ate up the Wizards’ defense for 33 points on 11-for-20 shooting. Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent the end of last season with the Wizards, bruised his former team for 20 points including three three-pointers.
“It was a good win, period,” said Oladipo, a local product who played high school ball at DeMatha. “Obviously, it is cool playing in front of my family and friends. This is not the first or last time I will be doing this. We just needed the win, obviously, and every win is important. Every game is important from now on till the rest of the season, so we just have to continue to keep getting better and taking it one game at a time.”
In creating their first three-game losing streak of the season, Washington wasted a chance to pull into a tie for third place in the conference. In all three losses, the Wizards could not handle the ball. Although they lost only 14 turnovers Sunday — better than the results against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday and Toronto Raptors on Friday — these miscues happened late and crippled the Wizards’ chances of tying the score as they tried to rally.
“Just the combination of our turnovers and [we] got some good looks that didn’t drop for us,” Brooks said. “We came back and had a chance to tie it with 10 seconds, actually have a chance to go up one with  seconds with Brad’s layup. A couple of tough breaks didn’t go our way, but we fought back and we gave ourselves a chance to send it into overtime.”