General annoyance is not often the disposition of someone who scored 39 points, added nine assists and nine rebounds in a win.
However, it was the stance of Bradley Beal late Sunday afternoon. He pulled his jersey over his head to deliver shrouded words to, presumably, himself, since keeping the language lodged only in his head was not enough. He had to shout it.
Beal was mad because of the slightest portion of his line in Washington’s 114-110 win against the Chicago Bulls in Capital One Arena. The little 0-for-2 on an otherwise burgeoning statistical performance came from the free throw line with the Wizards in front, 112-110, and 9.1 seconds to play. Beal missed both, which denied him a 40-point game and his team the comfort of a two-possession lead.
His teammates took care of him after several pokes and pushes to corral the second miss. John Wall was fouled. He made both shots. The Wizards had taken the rare step this season of backing a good win with another one the next game, thanks to those free throws and Beal’s prior work.
“Yeah I’m a little upset about this game though,” Beal said. “I missed [both] free throws, I could have had one assist and one more rebound. It was a good, but for sure, I was happy with my overall performance.”
The Bulls are 13-23. That record lies about them. Coming into the game, they had won 10 of 12, playing small, aggressive, flexible basketball in the midst of a rebuild. Their roster is flooded with prove-it guys new to the league and in search of their mark. They are not expected to win. Those circumstances provide freedom often lacking in pro sports.
Chicago showed early why its recent surge exists. It moved the ball with regularity, rotated quickly on defense and generally played as a group. The Bulls scored 38 points in the first quarter — the second-most allowed by the Wizards in a quarter this season — and 63 in the first half despite shooting just 3-for-20 from behind the 3-point line. Chicago opened a stunning 15-for-20 (75 percent) from 2-point range.
Chicago was up by as many as 12 points. The Wizards’ one lead was a meager point.
“That first quarter, they moved us around — we couldn’t stay in front of them,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.
Washington crept close after shifting to a smaller lineup. It was able to keep up with Chicago’s pace and outscored it by 15 points from behind the 3-point line, one of the few things that was keeping the Wizards in the game. Each time it approached, Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg stalled the run with a timeout. When the lead was down to six, timeout. Down to three, timeout. At halftime, Chicago kept a four-point lead.
Hoiberg called another timeout with 8:23 to play in the fourth quarter. This time, his team had been flipped onto the wrong end of the score for the first time since it trailed 6-5. Mike Scott’s always-going-in jump shot put Washington in front, 94-93, to spur Hoiberg’s search for a pause. It also helped engage a sellout crowd the afternoon before a new year struck. Neither team would lead by more than four points the rest of the way.
Wall’s layup and made foul shot with 29.4 seconds to play put Washington in front, 112-110. Chicago’s Kris Dunn, who had put the Bulls up with a pullup jump shot, missed. Chicago fouled Beal. His two misses were cleaned up by Wall’s two makes.
The free throws were the lone blemish of the day for Beal. He became the second player in the NBA this season to score at least 39 points, plus add nine rebounds and nine assists. The other is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. The nine assists tied a career-high. The 39 points were his third-most this season. He scored 17 of them in the fourth quarter, including 15 in a row at one point.
“I’ve been saying this — going on the second year now — that Brad’s an All-Star,” Brooks said. “I thought he was an All-Star last year, he led us in a lot of different games and [averaged] 23 points. It’s not just the 23 points, it’s the defensive play that he does, it’s the passing. We’re very blessed, we have two guys in the backcourt that are All-Stars. Hopefully, we can keep playing well and win some games.”
Washington has won seven of 10. Beating the Bulls backed Friday’s win against the talented Houston Rockets, producing the most modest of winning streaks, two games. But, there were signs this week that the Wizards could be shedding their season-long inconsistency on the way to a forecasted place. Two nights off are coming up before they reconvene to start 2018. A little more than half the season remains when they come back.