Bradley Beal fights through injured hamstring to lead Wizards with 25 points

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Beal fights through injured hamstring to lead Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It wasn’t until about 30 minutes before tip-off that coach Scott Brooks knew he’d have his best player in the most important game of the season. 

Just eight days after he suffered a left hamstring strain, Bradley Beal was back in the lineup to try and push the Wizards into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 115-110 win over the Hornets

But early on, it looked ugly. 

Beal was ice cold from the floor to start and, after a missed free throw in the first half, exclaimed, "Oh my god!" as the ball clanged out. With Beal's poor shooting performance to start, the Wizards fell behind by double digits early. 

But then, as they’d done all season, they came back. And Beal caught fire. 

Beal finished, injured hamstring and all, as the team’s leading scorer with 25 points - 20 of which came in the second half. And the Wizards, led by Beal, earned the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the play-in tournament. They'll now need just one win in two games to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.

RELATED: Wizards earn eighth seed with win

"I cannot say enough about Brad’s toughness," Brooks said. "He is so skilled and athletic, but the four years I’ve been here, there’s not a lot of guys that have his mental toughness, and his focus, and his determination. He’s been put under a very very difficult position with our injuries in the last three years and he had to really lead our group by himself. Now he has a partner. But that mental toughness that he has, that showed tonight."

Beal injured his hamstring against the Pacers last weekend and missed three games, two of which were Wizards losses. But with playoff seeding on the line, he made sure he was in the lineup once again. 

“I’m disappointed we didn’t have a better start, but knowing what we went through this season, this was the start we had to go through to get what we wanted to,” Brooks said. “I say it all the time, he chews nails for breakfast. And he doesn’t show it, he doesn’t like to show it because he’s really a reserved guy. That inner drive that he has, he should be proud. We’re all proud of him. The training staff did a great job getting ready, that’s eight days from his strain.”

Brooks said that he felt Beal wasn’t putting himself in a bad position by being on the floor, and his missed shots early weren’t indicative of an injured hamstring.

"I really looked closely throughout the game. I know the start didn’t seem like his body was kicking in right away, but I thought the shots that he had, they weren't shots that he was laboring," he said. "They were shots he was coming off of pin-downs, attacking, one-two pull-ups, those are things I was looking closely at, as well as our medical. I know when I see somebody that shouldn’t be out there."

The Wizards coach then joked that, even when he has to take Beal out, he doesn’t want to make eye contact.

“One thing I know about Brad is I don’t look at him when I take him out of games because I know he’s angry, and he’s angry at me because he wants to play,” Brooks said. “I was trying to stay with our structured plan with a little bit of wiggle room.”

Beal played 34:37 as his mere presence on the floor gave the Wizards an added benefit of having the game’s second-leading scorer on the court. The threat that he provides was big enough to give the Wizards a boost, and keep the Hornets honest.

“I thought Brad looked like Brad,” Robin Lopez said. “When we needed him, he stepped up. Just having him on the floor, there's such a huge impact on the gravity of the game.”

And after the game was over, both Beal and Russell Westbrook shared a brief moment together where they celebrated everything they’d been through, not just on Sunday, but through the season.

“You appreciate guys like him and don’t take his talent, his mental, his anything for granted,” Westbrook said. “He wants to win, and he wants to win bad.”