The New York Knicks left Washington with a victory - and a greater appreciation for all things Bradley Beal.
The Atlantic Division leaders faced the Wizards two previous times, but the rookie Beal only once. The 6-foot-4 guard sat out Washington's 106-96 victory on Feb. 6 with a sprained right wrist, but his game was all kinds of healthy - especially through the first three quarters - in Friday's 96-88 loss.
By draining 3-pointers and aggressively attacking the rim, Beal tallied a career-high 29 points, the most scored by any Wizard this season. He also notched 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. Beal made 9 of 15 shots entering the fourth quarter and finished with four 3-pointers.
In the third quarter alone, Beal scored 12 points, grabbed four rebounds and made 5 of 7 shots including both attempts from beyond the arc. In that stretch the Wizards outscored the Knicks 29-19 and entered the fourth quarter with a 77-73 lead, but ultimately succumbed to the Knicks defensive pressure. Washington finished 3 of 17 from the field with Beal missing five of six attempts, though his 3-pointer with 4:03 remaining cut the lead to 87-86. It would also be the Wizards' final basket.
Any late game struggles aside, the Knicks remained thoroughly impressed with the rising 19-year-old.
"He's great," Knicks swingman JR Smith said. "Other than Lillard he's probably Rookie of the Year. The way he shoots the ball, he's aggressive, he plays defense, he pretty much has it all. He's got a pro body even when he was in college. A big, strong kid. It's going to be interesting to see what he's going to be in the future."
In his first meeting against the Knicks on Nov. 30, Beal scored 14 points for the then 1-13 Wizards. Both player and team have improved since then.
Knicks center Tyson Chandler: "I like him. I think he's a great young player. Very fundamental. I think he stays within himself. He's a positive piece for them."
Averaging 14.2 points on the season, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft has scored 20 or more 12 times this season - five coming in the last eight games.
“He is a young talented player that is starting to figure out his game in this league," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "They drafted him and they saw something really good in him. Beal has performed and stepped up well for his ball club. You can see that he is giving his all out there, trying to get a win every night.”
The more Beal produces, the more Wizards coach Randy Wittman designs plays for the rookie to initiate the team's offense or receive the ball in clutch spots.
"Beal's kind of created that on his own with the way he's playing, the way he's developing," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "So, it's not necessarily has anything to do with John [Wall]. I think it's more Bradley's development and the things he can do and the comfort level he's at now doing those things has added me putting the ball in his hands."
As for whether Beal is surprised by his own production, the Wizards leading scorer said, "Yes and no. Yes because I didn't know I'd be so successful as I am now. At the same time, no because I expect myself to do this. Go out and compete every night and just make plays because that's the type of player I know I can be. I'm blessed to be in this situation, but at the same time this is what my expectations are. Just reaching my goals and achieving them."
Since the calendar flipped to 2013, he is certainly doing exactly that.
“It’s really showing," Beal said. You can see how calm I am and being relaxed. I’m not pressuring myself and my teammates do a great job setting me up to be able to make plays. Coach and my teammates as well, do a great job setting me up and putting me in position to make those plays. My confidence is sky high, ever since January on.”
Seems apparent the Knicks would agree.