When John Wall went down with a knee injury a week and a half ago, Bradley Beal knew the Washington Wizards would need more from him to fill the void. He’s struggled to provide it, though, shooting just 35.6 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from 3-point land over five Wall-less games heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers — a game that marked the back end of a back-to-back after the Wizards got destroyed in Utah on Monday in a disastrous start to a five-game road trip.
“I’ve been kind of — I was getting in my own head,” Beal told NBA TV’s Dennis Scott after the game. “I was trying to be a point guard, trying to do everything, and trying to put a little bit too much pressure on myself instead of just playing my game, man, and I just came out and did that tonight.”
Yes. Yes, he did.
Coming off a four-game stretch in which he’d totaled 50 points on 49 shots while dealing with the after-effects of a facial contusion, and just one night after the Wizards as a team put up 69 in four quarters against the Jazz, Beal devastated a stout, top-five-ranked Blazers defense to the tune of 51 points on 21-for-37 shooting in 43 minutes of work. That’s a new career-high for Beal, the third-highest single-game total in the league this season behind LeBron James’ 57 (against the Wiz, natch) and James Harden’s 56, tied for the seventh-highest scoring mark in Washington’s franchise history, and a new high-water mark for any opponent ever against the Blazers in Portland, topping the 49 points hung by Lou Hudson in 1970 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1972.
There’s just something about the first week of December for the Wiz, I guess:
This is just crazy.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) December 6, 2017
It was also enough for a 106-92 win, helping the Wizards wash the bad taste of their beatdown in Salt Lake City out of their mouths and get back on the right side of the ledger to improve to 13-11 on the season.
The Wizards took control with a dominant second quarter, clamping down on a stale Portland offense that managed just 15 points on 4-for-15 shooting in the frame and taking a 51-37 lead into the locker room at intermission. After hanging 19 through two quarters, Beal came out for the third quarter believing the responsibility for keeping Washington’s lead intact fell squarely on his shoulders. The right one, in particular.
“I think I knew at halftime that I had to carry the team, for sure,” Beal told Scott.
So he did, slicing to the rim for a layup and canning a pair of jumpers off feeds from center Marcin Gortat to rack up seven quick ones in the first 130 seconds of the third and inflate Washington’s lead to 23. After a mid-quarter Blazers run fueled by Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu got Portland back within 10, Beal answered back, scoring 12 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the third to help keep an on-rushing Damian Lillard at bay and maintain a 79-66 Wizards lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Every time the Blazers began to threaten, Beal was there with an answer. He orchestrated switches, and then cooked Portland’s bigs — Nurkic, Aminu, Noah Vonleh and rookie Zach Collins all got a taste — off the bounce with hesitation moves, quick bursts into the paint and lethal stepbacks. He worked around killer screens from Gortat and Markieff Morris to leave defenders like C.J. McCollum and Evan Turner chasing and grasping at ghosts:
It seems downright mean to call for an and-one on a play where you make two defenders foul one another in the air, @RealDealBeal23. But then, being mean was kind of your thing tonight. pic.twitter.com/jX9gCUwsul
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) December 6, 2017
He got a head of steam and rammed the ball right down Pat Connaughton’s throat at the rim; even when the former Notre Dame standout was step for step the whole way and finished with a strong contest, Beal still dotted his eyes. He curled off dribble handoffs, putting defenders on his hip in jail and freezing the dropping big before uncorking soft floaters. When the Blazers cut the deficit to nine on an Aminu 3-pointer with 1:28 to go, Beal was there to close the door with a 25-foot bomb, his fifth three of the night, to push the lead back to 12 with 1:08 to go.
Forty seconds later, he’d top half a hundred:
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 6, 2017
Sure, you could call that cherry-picking if you were so inclined. But A) he’d have gotten his 50 a couple of possessions earlier if Kelly Oubre had been thoughtful enough to give up the rock on a fast break with only one defender back, and B) are you really going to begrudge my man an easy deuce after doing all that work to carry the Wizards’ offense on a night when Washington’s other four starters combined to score 21 points on 30 shots?
Beal did have help in the form of Washington’s oft-maligned second unit. Oubre scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting with five steals. Mike Scott was a perfect 5-for-5 for 10 points and seven boards in 16 minutes. Tomas Satoransky chipped in behind fill-in starting point guard Tim Frazier with seven points, four rebounds and three assists without a turnover. Together, that was enough to move the Wiz past a Blazers team that had Lillard (30 points, nine assists, eight rebounds), Aminu (17 points, six boards) and little else to bank on in an underwhelming effort.
The Wizards knew all about those coming off Monday’s abomination in Salt Lake City. They can put it all behind them now, though, thanks to Beal’s historic night.
“I haven’t been playing good the last five, six games,” Beal told NBA TV’s Scott during his postgame interview. “My teammates do a great job of keeping my head up, keeping my spirits up, and [helping me] continue to be the elite player I want to be. We needed this one. Last game was embarrassing — by me, by everybody. We owed it to ourselves to be better tonight, and we came out with the right focus and got a great win on the road.”
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