- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2015

During the long break between Game 4 of the first round and Game 1 of the second, Bradley Beal would have been well-served by running wind sprints around trees and occasionally colliding with them. Often when he is on the floor in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks, that is the kind of experience Beal will have. He’s spending his time chasing Hawks marksman Kyle Korver, trying to do to Korver what opposing defenses do to him. To make the challenge greater, Beal is also trying to distribute the basketball with John Wall out.

Korver had a stunning year that put him in the All-Star game for one marquee talent. Korver shot 49.2 percent, second in the league, from behind the 3-point line during the regular season. Only the New Orleans Hornets’ Luke Babbitt shot a higher percentage [51.3], though he took 334 fewer 3-point attempts than Korver. Korver even pushed toward the shooter’s Holy Grail of shooting 90 percent from the free-throw line (Korver was 89.8), 50 percent from the field (48.7) and 50 percent from behind the 3-point line (49.2). No player in NBA history has achieved such accuracy.

Use of the 3-point shot has never been higher in the league. Value put on it is also at a peak. Considering those factors, the 34-year-old Korver is among the more valuable offensive players in the NBA. His regular-season adjusted field-goal percentage, which accounts for the extra point earned on 3-point shots, is 67.1. That’s just behind Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who finished the year with an adjusted field-goal percentage of 71.1. League MVP Steph Curry was at 59.4 this season.

Which makes stopping Korver one of the defensive missions for the Wizards in their series with the Hawks. Game 1 was bumpy for Korver. He was just 5-for-15 from the field and 3-for-11 from behind the 3-point line. At one point, he missed an open three and threw both arms in there. Whether it was the Wizards’ defense or tired legs after the short turnaround for Atlanta from the first round — it only had about 40 hours between games — Korver was not on target.

Game 2 was not much better. He was 4-for-11 from the field and all 11 shots were 3-point attempts.

Beal and gangly 6-feet-8 Otto Porter — mainly Beal — locked into Korver in Game 3. He made two 3-pointers in the first quarter, both off offensive rebounds. Korver was able to get only three more shots off the rest of the night despite 37:23 on the floor. He made none. The five total attempts were his fewest in the 2015 postseason.

Beal said earlier in the series that being a shooter who looks for similar set ups as Korver helps.

“We’re all the same,” Beal said. “We all can shoot the ball well, so we know what frustrates us when we come off. We just try to do that to one another. He guards me differently every time; I guard him differently every time. Just give him different looks. It does help when you’re that type of guy that comes off screens and things like that.”

Though Korver is missing, that doesn’t mean he is not moving. Beal tries to keep up by running around double baseline screens and managing dribble handoffs the way defenses try to do with him.

“He moves off the ball well,” Beal said. “Couple times in [Game 1], I told him, ‘You got to stop moving for at least 10 seconds.’ That’s what makes me better [as a player]. I think it’s just the mental challenge of I can guard one of their best players and continue to do what I do on the other end.”

A game-high 28 points were produced by Beal on the offensive end in the opener. He has shifted duties since Wall’s left-hand injury. Beal felt like he tried to do too much when he finished with seven assists, but the Wizards lost in Game 2. He put together a postseason career-high eight assists in Washington’s narrow Game 3 win. Wizards coach Randy Wittman said he did not see much of a difference in Beal’s play over the two games. He more so thought the 21-year-old was trying to take blame for the loss in Game 2.

“It’s easy to feel that way in a loss,” Wittman said. “I give the kid credit. He takes some of the blame for it. I told him, I didn’t even necessarily see it that way. At any point in a game, I can show you a spot that maybe you could have made a pass here and you tried to do too much. That happens a lot with John playing. I didn’t want him to come out [Saturday night] and lose his edge from [an aggression standpoint] because he felt he did too much. So, let me be your guide on that. If I think you’re trying to do too much, I’ll help you.”

It’s not just Korver on the perimeter for Atlanta. The Hawks were seventh in regular-season 3-point attempts. They lead all postseason teams in the number of threes taken. Atlanta had four players average 3.4 or more 3-point attempts per game in the regular season. That, of course, included Korver, but also included power forward Paul Millsap.

But, the key on the perimeter is Korver. His point total has progressively receded from 13 to 12 to six. In Game 3, he had more turnovers than made 3-pointers. That’s a ratio that can help Washington advance and is a large credit to Beal.

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