OKLAHOMA CITY — Bradley Beal scored with skill — and worked harder than any rebounder in a white jersey. He reached a very specific milestone in NBA history and played like someone worthy of being singled out by LeBron James for an all-star pick-up game.
And yet on Thursday night, Beal could only mumble his emotions following a familiar result.
Before the game, the league announced the all-star rosters and James had selected both John Wall and Beal to be his teammates. Then Beal proved he belonged among the best players in the game by scoring a team-best 41 points and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds — even more than the Thunder’s monster underneath the glass, Steven Adams. He showed the depth of his range while playing all but 2½ minutes. Beal shared the ball for seven assists and became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 780 career three-pointers (he sits at 782).
This should have been enough to lead Washington (26-22). But too many mistakes and missed shots — as well as too much Russell Westbrook — kept the Wizards from achieving a statement win on the road.
“We fought hard. We competed but it wasn’t enough. Myself included,” Beal said. “I turned the ball over too much [five turnovers]. I could’ve boxed out a few times, got some rebounds. I think the turnovers definitely hurt more than anything.”
Beal was guilty for five turnovers. The same for Wall (21 points, 12 assists), and the team committed 23 giveaways leading to 36 points for the Thunder. When the Wizards weren’t tossing away possessions, they struggled to contain Westbrook.
An angry Westbrook, veins popping from his neck, dunked then howled and silenced every Wizards rally in the second half. Westbrook scored a game-high 46 points, including 21 of his team’s 38 in the fourth quarter.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” said Wizards Coach Scott Brooks, who had an up-close view of his former player destroying his current team. “And it’s going to be like that for the next number of years. He competes. He puts them in a position to win. He reads the game.”
Before the game, Brooks noticed similarities between the teams.
While Washington has struggled against teams with losing records, Oklahoma City — with star power in Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — also has its share of shaky losses. By Dec. 1, the Thunder languished with an 8-12 record. Since then, the Thunder has experienced an awakening, improving to 28-20 with its sixth straight win.
Any similarities between the teams ended after tip-off. Westbrook found Adams for a lob pass and dunk on the first play. When Washington tried to duplicate with an interior play, Wall’s pass to center Marcin Gortat was picked off.
This started a choppy stretch for the Wizards as they missed their first six shots and couldn’t move the ball freely around Oklahoma City’s length and defensive pressure. At halftime, Washington made only 35.7 percent from the floor and trailed 54-40.
Washington recovered by the third quarter with an 11-0 run to come within striking distance. Although the Wizards found their offensive rhythm and challenged the Thunder with far greater ferocity, they still could not get over the hump.
As the Wizards trailed 69-68 with almost three minutes to play in the third quarter, Wall had a chance to give his team its first lead but instead turned timid. After Wall missed an open midrange look in front of Anthony, the Wizards cleaned up the miss. The ball swung his way again but Wall tried sharing it and lost the possession in the crowded paint. Oklahoma City responded with an angry layup from Westbrook, then a three-pointer by Anthony.
In the fourth quarter, the Wizards again cut the lead to a manageable deficit — 88-85 after Wall hit a three-pointer — but again, Westbrook pushed back. His tomahawk slam energized the crowd, forced the Wizards to call a timeout and punctuated a 21-point personal scoring binge in the fourth quarter. Washington did not come within one-possession again.
The Wizards trailed the entire way and lost their second straight game.
“I’m upset. I think everybody is upset and frustrated but we’re still a team,” Beal said. “We’re still together. We keep our heads high.”