WASHINGTON -- All 29 NBA teams go into their games against the Wizards with a plan and hopes to stop Bradley Beal. Few are as successful as the Toronto Raptors, whose head coach Nick Nurse often gets name-dropped by Beal anytime he has an off-night against them.
Beal mentioned Nurse once again after Friday night's loss, which saw Beal tie a career-high with nine turnovers. He represented half of the Wizards' 18 turnovers as a team, which led to 27 points for the Raptors on the other end. It was quite simply the biggest reason why they lost.
"That's unacceptable and that's 100% on my a--... I turned the ball over way too many times for us to win," Beal said.
Beal began to unravel in the second quarter when he had four turnovers in the frame. That was one short of his career-high for a single quarter. He has had five turnovers in a quarter twice, including in 2019 against... the Raptors.
Earlier this season, on Dec. 5, the Raptors held Beal to 14 points on 33.3% shooting. The Wizards have lost 11 of their last 13 games against the Raptors while Beal has been held to 23.4 points per game on 43.5% from the field in those matchups. During that span overall, he has averaged 26.6 points while shooting 46.7%.
Wizards acting head coach Joseph Blair explained the Raptors' strategy to defend Beal in detail. He outlined how they "[shrink] the court" by collapsing multiple defenders on him while he drives. But they have better timing than most teams, only helping and leaving their man at the last second. That limits Beal's options to find an open teammate.
Blair also said the Raptors keep him off-balance on drives by using their arms to subtly push him off his intended route. That forces difficult passes, as Beal is often absorbing contact as he releases the ball.
In apparent agreement with Blair, Beal thought his turnovers were mostly the Raptors forcing them, rather than him simply making careless mistakes.
"We know that's what Nick Nurse does, that's who he is. Every time I play him, he's making it tough, he's trying to get the ball out of my hand," he said.
"It's tough for me because it's not like I was just throwing that b---- all over the floor. They were swiping down, I was driving in traffic, there were a lot of guys, there were hands there, they were shrinking the floor. So, they got steals. They were able to get their hands on a lot of them."
The strategy Toronto employs is certainly part of the equation, but it goes well beyond just the way they guard him. They also have the personnel to make things difficult for any guard or wing who likes to drive to the basket, with three switchable players who are essentially positionless in their starting lineup.
Those players would be Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and rookie Scottie Barnes. All three are roughly 6-foot-8, long and with good defensive instincts.
Those players are about as versatile as any defenders in the NBA and the Raptors have three of them. That's highly unusual, even in today's NBA where players of their ilk are coveted every year in the draft. Ones that can defend as well as they do are not easy to find.
The Raptors also have a strong, quick point guard in Fred VanVleet who was assigned to stopping Beal on the perimeter for much of the night. He forced Beal into five of his turnovers, according to Second Spectrum. Anunoby caused four of them.
Collectively, they give Toronto the tools to limit Beal as few teams can. And on Friday night, their harassing defense on him made the difference in the game. The Wizards got off to a hot start, but they went off the rails because of turnovers, many of which came from their star shooting guard.