If Gator fans know anything about Bradley Beal, it’s that he matures quickly. His savvy game-winner on Monday is only a reminder.
Last night, the Wizards’ shooting guard got an opportunity to not only come through for a wounded Washington team still playing without star point guard John Wall, leading scorer Jordan Crawford and low-post option Nene, but to prove his worth to an Oklahoma City franchise that may have coveted him more than any in June’s draft.
With 12.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Wizards and Thunder tied at 99, the No. 3 overall pick had the ball at the top of the arc, the clock winding down and the game on the line. He was pitted against Oklahoma City’s ace perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha. Washington power forward Kevin Seraphin came up to set a high screen for Beal, forcing a switch that gave Beal the mismatch that coach Randy Wittman wanted against center Kendrick Perkins. Beal went left and got to the top of the key, where Perkins and Sefolosha converged on him.
Beal pump-faked to get both players off their feet, snuck forward and nailed a 16-foot floater with 0.3 seconds left on the clock for a 101-99 win. It’s the biggest upset so far of the season as the Wizards came in with the NBA’s worst record, 4-28, while the Thunder came in with the league’s best, 26-7.
“It was instinctual in itself for real, because I didn’t know what I was going to do to be honest with you,” Beal said. “Coach told me to go make a play, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ But I knew Perkins was going to go for it for sure. With the time going down like that, he was going to contest the jump shot.”
The shot came after the Thunder’s Kevin Durant — a D.C. native hungry for a homecoming win — hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 36.5 seconds left to tie the game.
“It rolled off my fingers the right way,” Beal said. “And thankfully it went in.”
Beal — who tied for the team lead with 22 points, including 5-of-7 3-pointers, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal — admitted he was exhausted at the end of the game after logging a team-high 45 minutes. For the season, Beal leads the Wizards with 31.3 minutes per contest among those who have played more than eight games.
Beal is beginning to show the potential that reportedly made him so desired by the Thunder, who put James Harden on the table for Beal and Florida State alum Chris Singleton, according to Michael Lee of the Washington Post. Although he’s struggled in his rookie year, only shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from beyond the arc, he’s scored at least 22 points in three of his last five games after only hitting the 20-point mark two other times this season.
It wasn’t the first time Beal found himself with the ball in crunch time as an NBA rookie. He had two opportunities on Nov. 24 against Charlotte, missing a wide-open 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime, then another late 3-pointer in the second overtime.
But if Monday is any indication, he’ll get plenty more chances to show his wizardry.