- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2015

Four games into the season, measuring growth is not difficult for the Washington Wizards‘ backcourt. A rundown of fourth quarters proves that. Young Bradley Beal and not-quite-as-young John Wall have taken the late-game burden and thrived.

The San Antonio Spurs learned that Wednesday night. Beal and Wall combined for 17 of the Wizards‘ final 19 points. Wall’s on-point read during the final possession was the first step to Beal’s open 3-point shot. His subsequent jab step and elegant release became the final marks in a 102-99 win over the Spurs.

Beal said he may have taken that shot last season. He would not have the previous two.

“I would be 19 years old,” Beal said. “No way I was going to shoot that.”
He wasn’t just talking belief. Beal was also talking style. He continues to try and remove well-contested two-point shots from his attempts. He opted to do so during the last possession against the Spurs. Seeing San Antonio power forward LaMarcus Aldridge flash in front of him following a defensive switch was enough for Beal to step one way, then back, and release a 3-pointer.

Entering Thursday, Beal led the NBA with 10.3 points per fourth quarter. Wall is fifth at 8.8 points in the final 12 minutes. The points are more a result of accuracy than volume. Beal is shooting 53.3 percent from the field — he began the season as a 41.9 percent shooter from the field — and Wall is shooting 50 percent. The duo scored 19 points in the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic. In the second game of the season, they added 19 more against the Milwaukee Bucks. Against San Antonio, they calmly outmaneuvered one of the league’s premier and veteran teams for a three-point win.

Last year, late shots often went to Paul Pierce. Beal and Wall are the logical choices now. Wizards coach Randy Wittman rhetorically asked during the preseason when Wall would qualify as a veteran. The former top pick is in his sixth season. That is enough for Wittman.

“It’s time,” Wittman said. “And, he has [grown]. He’s more mature now than he’s ever been, and he understands the responsibility of becoming a better leader for this team and the importance of it.”

There was no head-hanging from Wall after a scoreless first half on Wednesday. He scored 17 points in the second. More important was his control of the Wizards‘ zooming offense. Wall finished with 13 assists and one turnover against the Spurs.

“I let my defense and getting my teammates involved dictate my play,” Wall said.

Beal is heading toward a large payday. His start to the season will help maximize his future bank deposits. He is averaging 25.3 points per game the season before he becomes a restricted free agent.

Though he did not shoot a free throw Wednesday night, he did work his way to the rim often. Beal even sat down on the left block to post up reigning defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard during one possession. He scored on a jump hook, adding two points to the 101 he’s scored so far this season. Beal is the first Wizards player to score more than 100 points in the opening four games of a season since Gilbert Arenas in 2009. Beal is sixth in the league in scoring.

“It’s just me coming into my own, I guess,” Beal said, “Being able to step into the role where I take big shots and can make them as well.”

In their three wins, none of which are by more than five points, the Wizards have used the fourth quarter as salvation. They outscored the Magic by three points to win the opener. Washington came up with a 15-point advantage in the fourth in Milwaukee. The Wizards outscored the Spurs, 36-26, in the fourth quarter. Those rallies are an early indication that the Wizards‘ brisk offensive pace is dragging down opponents by the end of the game.

How Beal and Wall are handling the end of close games is a more clear sign. Finishing games, from creating to making the shot, is their task now. Wittman built multiple options into the final possession against San Antonio. Once Wall saw Beal slip out of a screen with Aldridge, he knew what choice he would make. As if there was any doubt beforehand.

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