The Wizards have built an identity led by John Wall, Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris as a team that will never back down to conflict and often be the instigators in a war of words. Usually, they know how to toe that line and use it to their advantage. On Friday, they succumbed to the other side of that sword.
It was an extreme case, to be fair. Beal and Draymond Green earned ejections after a fight in the final minute of the first half of the Wizards' loss to the Warriors. In most games, an eye for an eye would leave things relatively equal. But with Morris already out due to injury and the Warriors still having three All-NBA players on their roster, a close loss resulted in the Wizards kicking themselves for losing their composure. Beal's departure cost his team and he knows it.
Beal apologized to his teammates not once, but twice; at halftime and after the game was over. He felt that Green pushed him over the edge, but did not consider than an acceptable excuse.
"I told my teammates that I can’t put myself in a situation like that to leave them out there to battle it out against a tough team without me out there," he said. "It’s unacceptable by me. I have to show better leadership and control as well."
The chaos began with Beal and Green jockeying for position on a rebound. Green was in front of Beal, but quickly turned around and the two engaged in a double headlock.
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But that moment was a culmination of two quarters of chatter between the teams including Beal and Green, who exchanged words after a first quarter play when Stephen Curry took a charge from Wall. The Wizards thought it was a flop.
"The refs didn’t really do too much early on. So, when you let it go on it kind of gets to a certain point where it gets like that," Wall said.
The incident could lead to suspensions for Beal, Green and others who either left the bench or found themselves in the middle of the melee. The Wizards aren't sure how the league will respond, but Wall couldn't fully blame Beal for his actions.
"He needs to protect himself as a grown man. You never want somebody to get into a fight or get ejected but I’ve been in that situation before where I was ejected and we had a chance to win where I apologized," Wall said.
And Wall can speak as well as anyone on the Wizards' mindset as a feisty team. They like to talk and don't shy from confrontation. That plays into the motto they stated last season as 'Death Row D.C.' They want to be the team that no one wants to mess with, the team that can win with physical play and tell you all about it afterwards.
On this particular night, it may have come back to bite them, but Wall doesn't expect them to soften up.
"We’re a team that no matter who you are, the defending champs or not, that’s how we play. That’s how we were brought up to compete. We know they’re the defending champs, they’ve been to three straight Finals and they’re a great team, but we’re trying to get what they’ve got. We’re not going to back down from anything they say or anything they do," Wall said.
Their style of play has earned the Wizards a growing list of rivals and the Warriors are on it. Last season they had a dispute at Oracle Arena after the Warriors ran up the score late in a blowout. Then-Wizards guard Brandon Jennings pushed Warriors center JaVale McGee when he took a three in the final minute. There was the Wall-Curry incident in this game and also a game back in 2013 when Wall was ejected for getting in the face of Klay Thompson.
All in the last calendar year, the Wizards have had beef with the Warriors, Suns, Bucks, Hawks, Magic and of course the Boston Celtics. You can add the Lakers to that list now, too, with what happened this week with LaVar Ball. The common theme: the Wizards aren't afraid of confrontation, whether verbal or physical, in the media or on the court itself.
Though the Wizards and Warriors only see each other two times per season, it has become a rivalry. The next time they see each other is on Feb. 28 at Capital One Arena, and surely the Wizards will keep all of this in mind, but also know they can't let it affect their chances to win.