MEMPHIS — The letter “e” on Beale Street was beginning to fade on one of the signs near the Washington Wizards’ team hotel, to the point that it simply read “Beal” in the right lighting. Bradley Beal can’t rename one of Memphis’s most famous tourist attractions, but in his first NBA game in the city, the second-year shooting guard did his best to claim ownership of FedEx Forum.
On a night when the Wizards got little production from all-star John Wall, and Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza were both slow to get engaged, Beal carried the Wizards with a startling shooting display, burying jumpers and even attacking the basket. With his grandparents among those in attendance, Beal took advantage of a minutes increase and scored a career-high 37 points. But with the Wizards down to their final possession and trailing by three, the Memphis Grizzlies made sure the last shot didn’t go to Beal. Instead, Wall’s long-range miss dropped the Wizards back below .500 with a 92-89 loss.
“It’s terrible that you waste a game like that from him,” said Coach Randy Wittman, upset that his team trailed by 16 points in the second half before rallying and repeating an awful trend. “You can’t cheat the game. We cheated the game. We’ve talked about this over and over again. Until guys decide not to take nights off, quarters off; we took a half off and we continually do it. Against a team that is shorthanded and we don’t respect the game.”
The Wizards (25-26) had won 10 of their previous 14 games away from Verizon Center but hadn’t won in Memphis since Nov. 3, 2004 — the day the arena opened. Nick Calathes, filling in for the injured Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol each scored 18 points to lead the Grizzlies to their ninth straight home win over the Wizards.
The Grizzlies led 64-48 in the third quarter but Washington rode Beal and Nene (17 points) to take an 82-80 lead when Nene made a fadeaway jumper. The Grizzlies scored the next seven points and Beal responded with a reverse layup to bring the Wizards within 87-84 with 3 minutes 41 seconds remaining.
“I love this city. I got a lot family here. It was my first time playing here, so it was definitely fun,” Beal said. “My minutes went up to 36, but if you take me out of this game, I would probably be mad at you forever. I seen the first couple go in and it was a wrap from there. I just knew my confidence was high.”
Beal didn’t score again after the layup, but Washington had chances to tie in the final moments. After Nene made a three-point play to bring the Wizards within 91-89, Beal missed a jumper. Zach Randolph made 1 of 2 free throws, leaving Washington down three with one final possession. Wittman drew up the final play for Beal, but the Grizzlies blanketed him, leaving the last shot to Wall, whose off-balance runner bounced off the rim, securing the win for Memphis (28-23).
Wall scored a season-low five points, going just 2 of 10 from the floor and 0 for 4 from long distance. Aside from a two-minute stretch in the third period, when he fed Gortat for two layups, Nene for a dunk and Ariza for a three-pointer, Wall also came up short as a playmaker, totaling just five assists to go with four turnovers.
“You can say fatigue or tired, but it wasn’t none of that,” Wall said. “It’s just coming out there and putting forth the effort. It starts with me and I didn’t do a great job of that.”
After defeating the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, the Wizards claimed they were upset about only being even after 50 games and wanted to prove that they were better than average with two games left before the all-star break. But when they stepped on the court against the Grizzlies, the Wizards looked like they were already on vacation in the first half.
“We just didn’t play hard. That’s it. We didn’t compete, pretty much,” Gortat said. “Maybe one day, somebody is going to wake up and try to change something.”
Gortat committed three fouls and went scoreless in the first half. Wall and Ariza combined to score just four points in the first two periods. Ariza and Gortat eventually came back to both score 10 points in the second half, but the Wizards only got 10 points from the bench.
Memphis was without regular starters Conley and Tony Allen, which should have presented favorable matchups for Wall and Beal. But only Beal took advantage.
“Every time we figure somebody is not starting on the other team, one of their stars, we take that for granted,” Beal said. “We have to come out every night the same way. We have to play aggressive. We have to play hard for 48 minutes and we didn’t do that. We always try to play catch up and we end up getting burned in the end.”
Wall had scored a career-high 47 points when he faced the Grizzlies on March 25 but had a hard time keeping up with Calathes, especially with Memphis center Gasol constantly setting screens for him. Wall didn’t make his first field goal until hitting a short runner to bring the Wizards within 46-37.
Grizzlies reserve James Johnson scored 10 of his 13 points in the first half, providing a lift for his team when he drove down the lane and threw down a reverse dunk in the lane. Johnson also influenced the game on the defensive end. Ariza tried to sneak in a three-pointer just before the first half ended, but Johnson slapped the ball out of bounds to make sure that Memphis went into the locker room leading 52-37.
The Wizards will attempt to enter the all-star break at .500 when they travel to Houston to meet the Rockets on Wednesday.
“We should’ve won this game. not taking nothing away from them,” Beal said. “It’s frustrating, because we’re so talented, but we don’t utilize that, in any type of way. We always take it for granted and that’s something we’ve got to stay away from.”