For about a month, max player Bradley Beal has been missing in action for the Wizards. Friday, with his team trailing for all but one minute, he sprung back into action like a superhero. A scorer, rebounder, playmaker and clutch at the foul line, Beal led them back from a 10-point deficit with every primary big body on the sideline injured and Marcin Gortat away on personal leave.
Beal, upset with himself after he underperformed for the Wizards (8-9) in a loss Wednesday to the L.A. Lakers, scored 24 of his season-high 34 points in the second half of a 109-106 win against the Phoenix Suns.
"Just let you to know I call you Wolverine," Garrett Temple said to Beal about the X-Men character as the shooting guard limped out of the training room with knee that was sore after P.J. Tucker fell on him late in the fourth quarter. "Fastest healer in NBA history."
Beal was ferocious indeed. T.J. Warren gavie the Suns (8-12) an 88-78 lead with a three-pointer and Beal responded with a traditional three-point play attacking the rim and then a three-point shot. Beal's underhanded toss to a cutting Otto Porter produced another three-point play after his free throw to put the Wizards ahead 104-103 with 1:42 left and they'd never look back again. A bank shot from Beal on a drive gave them their largest lead of the game.
"I was not aggressive enough in the last couple games and I blame myself for that, especially the game the other night against L.A.," said Beal, who hasn't been himself since missing two weeks with a left shoulder contusion. "I have to be more of a threat. I can't just be passive. I can't just give up the ball that easy. I have to create, no matter if it's for me or for another teammate. It just keeps the defense off balance and makes them work for 24 seconds because once I get off the ball their job is over now. I just want to keep pressure on them as much as possible."
That's the Beal who wouldn't be denied by Kawhi Leonard, probably the NBA's best perimeter defender in a 102-99 win vs. the San Antonio Spurs. But that was a month ago in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business.
"When he's aggressive, it's just a domino effect on everybody else," said Ramon Sessions, who had 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting off the bench. "When he's scoring the ball like that it's tough to lose games."
Beal didn't come to terms with the Wizards on an extension before Nov. 2 which means they had to table discussions until the summer when he becomes a restricted free agent. Both sides have good reason. For Beal, the salary cap will go up by $20 million. The pot will be larger. For the Wizards, they'll actually have more wiggle room under the salary cap if they wait because they can exceed it to re-sign him as an exception after they secure the other roster spots. Plus, they hope Beal can remain healthy and show the ultra-aggressive, alpha dog streak they witnessed in this game more often.
"Whenever one of us is hot, it's not that we're going to take away from each other. Tonight was the night he was in a great rhythm," said point guard John Wall, who had a game-high nine assists. "There were opportunities and times I needed to find him and get him the shots that he needed to put him in the situation to be as aggressive as he was."
The Wizards didn't have Gortat, who is visiting his ill mother in Poland, Nene (calf), Drew Gooden (calf) and Kris Humphries (ankle). They made up for it with small lineups and still had a 41-35 rebounding edge, a season-high 50 points in the paint and 40 points from the bench. Then Beal, who made 12 of 23 shots, closed out like he did early in the season when the Wizards got off to a 3-1 start.
"That's who he can be when he puts his mind to it," coach Randy Wittman said. "It's that way with all our guys. When we're aggressive, good things happen."