Since the start of training camp it's become essentially a daily ritual writing about Bradley Beal, the Wizards latest first round pick. Hey, without John Wall and Nene around, the third overall pick stands out on a roster devoid of star power and in a year where rookies have dominated the D.C. sports landscape. However, dating back to the final game of the preseason and including the first two official games of the 19-year-old's career, the focus has been more on struggles than positive play. That's not an editorial decision, but rather a case of reporting the facts.
The fact is Wednesday night in Boston Beal played with renewed confidence, got his hustle on with an early block against one of Boston's All-Stars and knocked down several shots including his first one in eight days. Told you he'd been struggling.
Beal logged the most minutes on the team (38) in Washington's 100-92 overtime loss in Boston as Wizards coach Randy Wittman had the newbie on the court for the opening tip and crunch time. The Florida product matched Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster with a team-high 16 points and A.J. Price with three 3-pointers including a break-the-ice bomb midway through the first quarter.
With Washington trailing 11-2 after yet another slow and clanking start, Price pushed the ball up court in a semi-fast break situation and found Beal open on the left wing. Splash. The 3-pointer snapped a string off 11 straight misses from any angle and slowed Boston's early momentum. The basket came shortly after Beal raced over to swat a Paul Pierce attempt out of bounds, which came days after Wittman suggested that contributing in other areas would get the sweet-shooting guard's touch back in gear.
More assertiveness came in the third quarter. At the tail end of a 2-on-1 fast break with Pierce defending, Beal took a pass from Trevor Ariza and attacked the right side of the rim. After making contact with the physical Pierce, the 6-foot-4 guard cocked the ball well behind his head before following through with a shot off the glass and in. He completed the 3-point play and gave the Wizards a 49-44 lead, which would be their largest going forward.
In the fourth quarter of the back-and-forth affair and Boston holding an 82-80, Beal was one of only two starters on the court as the clock ticked under two minutes with Washington looking for a score. After heading toward the baseline with Celtics guard Rajon Rondo in pursuit, Beal jogged to the high post and set a forearm-leaning back screen on Kevin Garnett while Kevin Seraphin headed toward the rim. With Chris Singleton holding the ball on the left wing beyond the arc and Garnett occupied, Rondo dropped back to stop the Wizards big man, leaving Beal to roam.
The rookie found space at the top of the key. Singleton found the open man. Curling off a non-existent pick, Beal caught the pass, raised and fired without hesitation. The straight on shot went in-and out, kissed the backboard before sliding through the net, giving Washington a one-point lead.
There were misfires in between and after the makes - Beal finished 6 of 15 overall - not to mention a costly turnover during the Celtics 8-0 run in overtime. That will be discussed before the Wizards' next game, a home date Friday against Milwaukee. After a stretch of funky play, let's focus on the positives, which included four rebounds and three assists. Beal is certainly feeling better.
“Most definitely, and not even in terms of scoring, because I could care less about that," Beal told reporters after the game. "It was just the fact that I was aggressive on both ends of the floor. I was rebounding, I was playing defense and I was scoring some points as well. When coach took me out the first time, he told me I don’t care if you keep missing, because he was saying I was being aggressive. I was proud of myself in just doing that. They got me back to having fun; I was laughing on the court and having a ball. Eventually it just started flowing to me, it felt right.”
Asked about the importance of the game specifically for Beal, Wittman told the media post game, "This isn’t about individuals, it’s about guys learning how to play and Bradley’s part of that. Kevin’s part of that. A lot of guys are in that spot, but Bradley came out aggressive tonight. This is probably the best game he’s played so far. He made quick decisions and had a lot of good looks that didn’t go in. As long as you are getting good looks and taking good shots, that’s all you can ask for."