Bradley Beal celebrates knocking down a jumper to beat OKC. (Ned Dishman/NBA/Getty Images)
Heading into Monday night, only one team had notched wins over both the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat and defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder this season — the bruising Memphis Grizzlies, owners of the NBA's fifth-best record. Now, however, the Grizz have been joined by ... the cellar-dwelling Washington Wizards, owners of just five NBA wins this year. Zach Randolph and his pals have Wizards rookie Bradley Beal — and one of the oldest tricks in the book — to thank for the company.
With 12.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 99-all tie — which, of course, was pretty surprising, given that Monday's affair matched up the NBA's best team, the 26-7 Thunder, and its worst, the 4-28 Wizards — the No. 3 pick in the 2012 NBA draft took a handoff from big man Kevin Seraphin and dribbled up top against ace Thunder perimeter defender Thabo Sefolosha. While the remaining three Wizards flattened out along the baseline, Seraphin came up to set a high screen for Beal, resulting in a switch that put gave the Florida product a mismatch against slow-footed center Kendrick Perkins. He attacked the mismatch, crossing left and getting to the top of the key, where he was met by both Perkins and a recovering Sefolosha. As he rose for a potential game-winner with 3.3 seconds left, both Thunder defenders flew at him to block the shot.
Except, y'know, he didn't shoot it:
Man, it's great when Wizards play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz has the chance to break out the "DAGGER!" Thanks for that, rook.
After gaining some breathing room with a timely pump-fake, Beal leaned in, elevated and sank a 16-footer with three-tenths of a second left on the clock to seal a 101-99 upset and send District denizens home happy.
The game-sealing jumper tied Beal with teammate Martell Webster for the Wizards' game-high of 22 points; the two combined to shoot 9 for 13 from 3-point range in the win, which Washington earned without leading scorer Jordan Crawford and low-post focal point Nene, both of whom missed the game with injuries.
The front-line duo of Emeka Okafor and Kevin Seraphin combined for 31 points and 17 rebounds to make up for Nene's absence, much-maligned 2011 lottery pick Jan Vesely (10 points, seven rebounds) and just-back-from-injury point guard A.J. Price (four points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, one turnover in 16-plus minutes) provided sparks off the Wizards' bench, and Beal and Webster handled the scoring load. It was Beal's fifth 20-point game of the season and the third in his last five outings; the five 3-pointers were a season high for a player who was labeled a marksman coming out of the SEC but has struggled with his shot (36.7 percent from the floor, 32.3 percent from 3-point range) for a Wizards offense that, thanks in part to the continued absence of injured point guard John Wall, ranks as far and away the NBA's worst.
According to Bullets Forever's Amin Vafa, Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the game that he drew up the final possession for his rookie guard, who had gone 6 for 16 from the floor and admitted to being exhausted down the stretch of a contest that saw him play a game-high 44 minutes and 46 seconds:
"We knew they were doing some switching with their bigs late," Wittman recalls.
The coach goes to his rookie and tells him to make a play.
"We wanted to try to get Perkins matched up on Beal at the end."
"The play in itself was just for me to have a high pick and roll with Kevin [Seraphin]," remembers Beal. "[Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha] tried to switch, but there was a miscommunication, so Sefolosha backed off me and kind of created a lane. "So I just took the floater ... It rolled off my fingers the right way, and thankfully it went in."
Running the moment over and over again in his mind, the playmaker himself was trying to figure out exactly what happened.
"It was instinctual in itself for real, because I didn't know what I was going to do to be honest with you," Beal says after the game. "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."
He did, and the 19-year-old rookie made him pay with a veteran move, spoiling what was expected to be something of a joyous homecoming for Kevin Durant. The Thunder star and D.C. native was disappointed at how his Thunder responded to the challenge of facing the team with the NBA's worst record, according to The Associated Press:
"We let them stick around, because we're not taking them serious enough," Durant said. "We can't do that, man. We can't do that."
After starting the game with laconic defense that enabled the Wizards to come roaring out of the gate behind strong starts from Okafor and Webster (16 points on 6 for 9 shooting in the first quarter) and take a 10-point lead after 12 minutes, Durant and his mates woke up in the second, with the All-Star forward, big man Serge Ibaka and sixth man Kevin Martin combining for 27 points on 11 for 15 shooting to push OKC to a two-point halftime lead.
Durant went quiet for quite a while after intermission, though, failing to make a field goal between the 9:17 mark of the third quarter and 2:03 remaining in the fourth, as the Wizards — who, quiet as its kept, rank 12th in the league in defensive efficiency, according to NBA.com's stat tool — threw multiple defenders at him and repeatedly harassed the three-time scoring champ, blocking three of his field-goal attempts. The rest of the Thunder couldn't carry the load on Monday, combining to shoot 5 for 20 in the third quarter, headlined by an unsightly 1 for 7 frame from point guard Russell Westbrook — that allowed the Wizards to regain control of the game and take a five-point lead into the final three minutes.
Durant eventually woke up, scoring four points in 27 seconds to draw the Thunder within one and hitting a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left to knot the game at 99; he finished with 11 in the fourth and a game-high 29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals — you know, an off night. But despite his late effort and Ibaka's 26-point, 11-rebound double-double, the Wizards had just enough to win, thanks to Beal's final-second poise. I guess now it makes some sense that OKC (allegedly) wanted him in a James Harden deal, huh?
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to peruse the dagger elsewhere, thanks to CBSSports.com's Matt Moore.
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