Overshadowed by the Wizards latest devastating loss, Bradley Beal defined clutch not once but twice against Brooklyn. Ignored by the casual observers because of the team's relentless losing and 4-27 record, but lately and especially since the calendar flipped, Washington's first round pick is balling.
Included in Beal's career-high 24 points against the Nets in Friday's 115-113 double-overtime loss: a game-tying 3-pointer at the first overtime buzzer, two pressure free throws and a thunderous baseline dunk.
Included in the 19-year-old's makeup, the willingness to step up in those defining moments that have even some veterans shying away.
"I think that's accurate," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Either you got that or you don't, is the way I like to say it. I can't make you have - as I say in the business - guts to take a shot at the end. Either you got that or you don't."
After inexplicably blowing an eight-point lead during the first overtime in a mere 74 seconds, the Wizards trailed 104-101 with 3.4 seconds. Wittman designed the next play for his rookie ("Absolutely, I did"). After receiving a pick from Emeka Okafor, Beal caught the inbounds pass atop the 3-point arc. Poised and clearly not overwhelmed by the situation, he took a hard dribble right, set and released. Splash.
"My confidence is sky high, throughout the whole game and the shot at the end, I mean God willing, it went in," Beal said following practice on Saturday as the Wizards prepared for Sunday's game at Miami. "I shot it with a lot of confidence and I knew as soon as I shot it, I knew it was going in, because it felt right."
Beal's slow backpedal upon release picked up significant pace once the ball fell through the net. A toothy, euphoric smile joined the mix.
"That was a big moment in my career so far. Hopefully one of many," Beal said. "It was just a moment changer. Although we didn’t end up with the (win), it was a big play for us and I’m really happy that I actually got that opportunity."
The irony is that at the end of 2012, there was nothing celebratory about Beal's perimeter game. Dating back to Dec. 15, he missed his last 17 attempts from beyond the arc. Attempt number 18 against Dallas on New Year's Day was true. In three 2013 games, the shooting guard has made 8 of 15.
Not just with long-range attempts, Beal, who played only one season at the University of Floirda, is grasping what it takes for success on basketball's highest level - his third level in three seasons.
"It takes a while because - the NBA is such a different style play than it is in college," said Wittman, who played four seasons at Indiana University before being selected in the first round of the 1983 draft.
"It's so much faster. I thought I knew it all coming out of Indiana playing for a guy like Bobby Knight. It was overwhelming, the speed of the game at this level because of the athletes, the best players in the world. It takes time to understand...He's starting to see areas where his shots are, where he can be aggressive, where he can't be aggressive. He's making good progress."
Beal's career-high scoring performance came two games after he tallied 22 against Dallas, which at the time matched his personal best output.
"I’ve been playing like this the last couple of games and it’s just me, just sitting down talking to myself and seeing what I need to do better," said Beal, who credited taking and making more mid-range jumpers with his recent 3-point success.
"That just developed my confidence to be able to shoot a three. So I’m just putting it all together and the game is moving slower."
In the second overtime and with Washington down 113-111, the ball found Beal on the move near the right sideline and with All-Star Joe Johnson chasing from behind. Passing on the deep shot, Beal aggressively drove the lane, ultimately generating contact with a defending and sliding Andray Blatche. The teenager then stuck two manly free throws, tying the game with 9.1 seconds left."
Describing the play, Beal said, "I wanted to be able to shoot those free throws and attack the basket and not settle for the three at the end...I just stepped up and had the confidence to be able to knock them down."
Earlier in the game the 6-foot-4 guard turned a left baseline drive into a wall poster moment, hammering a dunk over Brooklyn guard Marshon Brooks.
"I got plenty of text messages about it," Beal said.
Last month he went for another sky-walking moment against Atlanta. However, 6-foot-9 Josh Smith met and stuffed him at the rim, sending Beal crashing to the court. His back and head took the brunt, forcing him out of the next two games.
Asked if he had any apprehension on this latest high-flying maneuver, Beal said, "I didn’t think about that. I was just more aggressive. I was aggressive, but it’s just one defender is taller than the other – and more athletic. But I just really went hard to the basket and I want to just put him in the basket."
Nobody is suggesting the kid has everything down pat. On the season he's only shooting 30 percent on 3-pointers. Joe Johnson's game-winning basket came with Beal defending ("I didn’t force him [into the double-team]"). What is clear is right now Washington's clutch first round pick is balling and starting to figure this pro game out.