- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

CHICAGO – Never mind that the baby-faced 20-year-old with only two games of playoff experience was extolling the rigors of playoff basketball. Bradley Beal enjoyed every minute of the Wizards’ 101-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the teams’ first-round series on Tuesday, and for him, it all boiled down to one simple reason.

“I don’t like losing,” Beal said, “and whatever it takes to win, for this team to win, I’m going to do it.”

The postgame proclamation came off a little cocky, but Beal can turn to the results to support his case. Ten of his 26 points came in the final 7:41 of the fourth quarter, when the Wizards trailed by eight, and were it not for a matter of inches, he would have won the game with an 18-footer from the right corner as time expired.

His performance stood in stark contrast to his playoff debut on Sunday, when he had 13 points and seven assists but went just 3-for-11 from the floor in the Wizards’ Game 1 victory. Coach Randy Wittman implored Beal and fellow guard John Wall to keep shooting, insisting he had no issue with Beal’s shot selection, and that reinforcement paid off early in Game 2 when Beal made three of his first four attempts.

He wasn’t perfect – too often in the second and third quarters, he hoisted shots that could have benefitted from an additional pass or two.

But he was poised.

“He was aggressive all game,” said guard Trevor Ariza. “He wasn’t shying away from anything. They tried to be physical with him, and he didn’t back down at all. He was big. I love it.”

Beal’s aggression started to show with 3:04 remaining in the first quarter, when, after making a lay-up on the fast break and drawing a foul by trailing Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, he landed under the basket, glared in Butler’s direction and twice thumped his chest with his right fist.

Not even 30 seconds later, Beal snagged his own offensive rebound, ripping the ball away from Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. And, with 4:10 to play before halftime, he and Hinrich were each assessed technical fouls after a dust-up in the paint.

“That’s playoff basketball,” said Beal, who could only fathom an idea of what playoff basketball was like two days earlier. “Everybody is trying to fight to win. It’s a war out there. He’s a smart player. He tried to get me to something that I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of doing. It was nothing too serious. It happens within the flow of the game. We both got Ts and moved on.”

Ariza has watched Beal mature over the past two seasons and has said on occasion that Beal can be a future superstar in the league. He was twice named the Rookie of the Month last season and he caught the eye of the basketball masses in February, when he was the runner-up in the three-point shooting contest during All-Star Weekend.

Tuesday’s performance was different, if not more legitimate. He became only the 10th player 20 years or younger to score 25 or more points in a playoff game – a list that includes Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.

When the Wizards regained possession with 8.3 seconds remaining in regulation and the score tied at 91, everyone at United Center knew the ball would end up in Beal’s hands. Wall threw the ball into Beal at the top of the key, and though Nenê tried to free Beal from Butler with a high screen, Butler fought through it.

Beal drove into the right corner and let go of an off-balance baseline jumper with 1.6 seconds left, trying to get it over the outstretched arms of Butler and Joakim Noah, who switched off the screen. The shot fell short, bouncing off the front of the rim as time expired.

“I had no problem with that shot the way he was playing,” Wittman said. “He wanted to be aggressive, all right, and went after it, and I loved that.”

After the game, Beal was asked about the differences between the Wizards’ mentality in the first two games of the playoffs and the rest of the regular season, when they were inconsistent quarter to quarter and often struggled to close out games they should have won.

He explained it within the framework of a team issue – a continued pattern of improvement that he and his teammates have experienced from the first game of the situation.

The 20-year-old, essentially, is growing up.

“What he did [Tuesday] wasn’t a surprise to me,” Ariza said. “It wasn’t a surprise to anybody in this locker room. He came through when we needed him.”

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