Beal’s finger roll stopped short at the lip of the rim, and he grinned at the irony of it all. Or maybe Beal smiled to keep from screaming.
At the moment of Beal’s blown bunny shot — which a teammate cleaned up before another teammate lost a turnover — the Wizards trailed by 17 points. Opening night for Washington was meeting its low expectations.
While Beal predictably led the team with 19 points, his night ended early after he was ejected with 1:09 remaining. Even when Beal was available, the Wizards struggled to consistently create and score beyond him. The Wizards shot 40 percent from the field, with Beal making only 7 of 25 shot attempts. That failed finger roll counted as one of the many misses. After smiling all the way to the Wizards’ sideline, Beal showed his true emotions by slamming a towel.
His mood didn’t lighten. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic was inching toward a career-high scoring effort, ultimately finishing one point shy with 34, and Beal made it his night’s work to stop him in the fourth quarter. Beal’s plan: play with an edge.
“He had it going all night. He’s a tough guard. He’s a physical guy. He can get any shot pretty much that he wants, and I think we were letting him get a little too comfortable,” Beal said. “Granted, he was able to draw fouls in that aspect, but I think there was a lot of threes he got, a lot of straight-line drives, and I just wanted to frustrate him a little bit.”
The two had their share of chippy moments. If Doncic committed a foul, Beal rushed to yank the ball away — normal basketball stuff. But following one interaction in the final minutes, official Jonathan Sterling called a double technical on the two players. As Sterling signaled the call to the scorer’s table, he turned to see Beal dismissively waving him off. Sterling promptly looked back at the table to inform the official scorer of Beal’s second technical and disqualification.
“I guess he got offended by what I did. Whatever, I just walked out,” said Beal, who is subject to a $4,000 fine. “I didn’t ask for no explanation, but I will talk to the league tomorrow.”
On the night the Wizards’ biggest star got kicked out, their newest darling made his NBA debut. Rookie Rui Hachimura started strong with six points in the first quarter and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes.
“We lost the game. This is just the beginning,” Hachimura said. “It is what is and we have two more other games [on this road trip], so I feel like we have to play defense more and offensively we have to share more balls and stuff.”
The Wizards’ inexperienced rotation had the feel of a Russian nesting doll; underneath every neophyte or new starter was another player with even less experience.
Before the team arrived in Dallas, Isaac Bonga found out he was the Wizards’ starting small forward while scrolling Twitter. When Bonga, who logged only 120 minutes in the NBA last year during his rookie season, sat on the bench with two fouls, rookie Admiral Schofield filled the opening at one of the forward spots.
The issue extended to other positions as the Wizards relied on players with mostly minor league résumés.
Jordan McRae, the 2018-19 G-League scoring champ, backed up Beal. Moritz Wagner, who spent more time with the South Bay Lakers than the Los Angeles Lakers a season ago, played behind 22-year-old starting center Thomas Bryant. Wagner’s first game as a Wizard followed the drum beat of foul, turnover, foul, turnover. He eventually fouled out after scoring 13 points but committing five turnovers in 17 minutes.
Ish Smith, who has crafted a solid career as a backup, started at point guard in the absence of Isaiah Thomas and John Wall. When Smith rested, Chris Chiozza, with the Wizards on a two-way contract, ran the offense.
“We’re throwing a lot of guys who haven’t played in the NBA and haven’t played a lot of minutes in the NBA,” Coach Scott Brooks said before the game. “At times there might be some surprising moments, and hopefully it’s surprising on the good side of it.”
Brooks looked prescient early when — surprise — the Wizards controlled the first six minutes of the opening quarter.
Beal didn’t have to shoot the ball. He established his mark on the game by grabbing rebounds and setting up teammates as the four other starters scored before Beal tallied his first points of the season. Hachimura confidently stepped into his midrange jumpers, hoisting them over the outstretched hand of 7-foot-3 Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis. Then a soaring, dunking Beal hauled in a lob pass from Smith, only his second shot attempt of the game, and the Wizards led 17-10 with 5:47 to go in the first quarter, matching their largest lead of the night.
“Just moving the ball and we were defending,” Beal said, “and I think that stopped late in the first quarter, early in the second, when we stopped moving the ball and stopped defending, and you can see kind of shots and our non-execution on offense kind of carried over to the defensive end.”
Though fleeting, those first few minutes showed the Wizards can compete and will work hard. Then the Mavericks showed their depth and pulled away. Near the end, Beal had a fake grin plastered on his face, Doncic looked unstoppable, and the 2019-20 Wizards felt their first growing pain.