Well, if anyone did not know who Bradley Beal was before tonight in the NBA, they do now, as the rookie hit a near-buzzer beater to give the Wizards a 101-99 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was a special night at the Verizon Center, as the Wizards moved to 2-0 at home against teams who played in the Western Conference finals last year. Lead by Beal and Martell Webster, the Wizards were able to hold off a pesky Thunder team who tied it late, but did not have the big shot to win it.
“That [play] was for him, yep no question,” Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman said when asked if the final play was drawn up for Beal. “Popped him out, got him the ball. Like I said, we wanted to run whoever Perkins was on up to him, to see if we could get the switch [of the big men].”
Washington came out shooting the lights out in the first quarter. Beal and Webester hooked up for four combined three pointers to help the Wizards out to a 22-17 lead with time winding down. While Beal and Webster were hot for the Wizards, Thabo Sefolosha was the hot shooter for the Thunder, with three field goals and two threes. It was a tough quarter overall for the Thunder though, shooting just 44-percent from the floor.
The story in the second quarter was much different. Washingtons started with a 30-20 lead, but the ten point cushion quickly evaporated.
Suddenly Oklahoma City was up three and Kevin Durant was a huge part of that. After only scoring four points in the first quarter, he came back with 11 in the second, highlighted by a huge one handed slam he just clearly wanted more than the Wizards. Durant knocked the Wizards out of their shorts later in the half too, when he faked right and drove left for a pull-up two to make it 41-40 Thunder with 4:47 left.
The end of the half could not have gone any worse for the Wizards.
After Serge Ibaka missed a wide open three in the bottom right corner, the Thunder got the rebound and kicked it back to Russell Westbrook. Westbrook hesitated and then found Ibaka open in the right pocket again who knocked the three down to send the Thunder to the locker room up 53-51.
If the second quarter was Durant’s, the third was definitely Webster’s. He had a huge two handed boomshakalaka slam off a steal and hit a three down low to give the Wizards their first lead since the first quarter. He’d go on to score seven in the third and a game total 22 points.
Webster thinks he might have the key to why they were able to begin to pull ahead and complete the comeback.
“The moral of tonight’s story was just buying into the system. Defensively and offensively we did that,” Webster said after the game. “We executed our defensive plans, even though they got shots, but those are things we were going to live with. [Offensively we] went out and laid it on the line, wore our heart on our sleeves.”
Beal continued to have a night in the third, hitting his fourth three of the evening in the waning seconds of the third quarter. The rookie also drew a foul, knocked down the shot and gave the Wizards a 76-73 lead heading into the final frame.
Washington continued to keep their distance from the Thunder as Durant struggled shooting the ball. Jan Vesely was a hero in the fourth – yes you read that right – with four points in the final quarter and 10 total in the game. He managed to climb out of a -15 plus-minus in the first half to just -3 in the fourth, playing a key roll in the defense.
OKC cut into the deficit and made it 94-90 with 3:20 left in the game with a Sefolosha one handed jam. Durant looked to have the Thunder back in it after he followed up Sefolosha with a posterization of the entire Wizards defense to make it 95-94. The Thunder looked back in it, that was, until Webster hit another three from the baseline and was fouled to increase the Wizards’ lead to five.
With the lead and time winding down, the Wizards drained clock before settling for an off-balance shot. OKC took the ball down the court and while Westbrook missed a three, Ibaka got the rebound and kicked it to Durant who hit a deep pull-up three to make it 99 all with under a minute to go.
Oklahoma City may have Durant, but they did not have Bradley Beal.
The rookie took the ball off the inbounds and walked around before driving inside the arc and pulling up with an open look to knock down a near buzzer beater to give the Wizards a 101-99 lead and the win.
“I was exhausted and coach said ‘you think I’m taking you out, you’re crazy,” Beal said after the game.
Webster followed up Beal’s comments with some high praise for the 19-year-old rookie.
“People were saying a lot of things, ‘has he hit the wall,’ nah that kid has a passion and I saw it tonight,”