- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2019

Over the course of Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors, Bradley Beal lifted the Washington Wizards.

His 21 points in the fourth quarter alone — including a game-tying 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds left — helped force overtime, erasing a 23-point defect from earlier in the afternoon.

But Beal’s heroics weren’t enough.

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Star forward Kawhi Leonard powered the Raptors to a 140-138 victory in double overtime, grabbing a pivotal offensive rebound that set up a go-ahead 3-pointer from center Serge Ibaka.

Beal finished with a season-high 43 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.

Leonard answered with 41 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

“Any time you have two teams lay everything they have on the floor, people walk away knowing that you did your best,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “And tonight was one of those games. … I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the win but I’m still proud of our guys, the way they battled. If we keep playing like this, we’re going to be in a lot of good games and in a good position to keep putting ourselves in to win these games in the end.”

After the buzzer, Beal remained on the ground for several seconds. Moments before, an errant, last-ditch pass from Jeff Green went over Beal’s head — failing to give the Wizards‘ star one final opportunity to steal the game.

Washington, too, had its chances. The Wizards led by two with 31.8 seconds left and they even initially made a stop. But Leonard, who the Raptors acquired over the summer from the San Antonio Spurs, hauled in the offensive board and quickly found a wide-open Ibaka for 3 to go up 139-138.

Toronto scored its final point on a free throw from guard Danny Green.

“We made a big shot at the very end and we get lucky to get out of here,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

The Wizards entered Sunday’s contest with a re-discovered joy for the game. Against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, guard Tomas Satoransky earned his first career triple-double and his teammates showered him with water bottles inside their locker room following the win. Washington, too, had won five of its last seven.

But the Raptors were ready to face the Wizards. They rushed out to a 9-0 lead behind Leonard and and fellow forward Pascal Siakam. Washington did not have an answer for either’s towering size or athleticism.

Toronto was also honed in on Beal, who has now scored more than 30 points in each of his last three outings. Before the game, Nurse was highly complimentary of the Wizards star, saying Beal’s footwork was among the best in the game.

“Always when I’m preparing for these guys, I get amazed at his — I always tell the team he’s got the best start-stop-start in the league,” Nurse said of Beal. “He’s going one way 100 miles an hour, stops on a dime and is back the other way and then back the other way again. He’s hard to keep track of.”

The Raptors, though, did a solid job of keeping a defender consistently attached to Beal. Through the first quarter, Beal had just two points, went 1-for-9 from the field and the Raptors held a 36-21 lead.

Beal, however, adjusted. He found a better rhythm in the second, and it was no surprise the Wizards were able to cut into Toronto’s lead. The Raptors led 61-50 at halftime, but the Wizards outscored them in the quarter with Beal’s eight points.

Washington’s success didn’t last long. In the third quarter, the Raptors swarmed the Wizards — with Leonard, in particular, dominant. In addition to his 10 points in the third, Leonard forced two steals and had one block.

But Beal caught fire in the fourth. He went 8-of-9 to drag the Wizards back. And in the first overtime, Beal was kept quiet — until he drained another game-tying basket with seconds left to force another overtime.

Beal’s triple-double was the second of this season and his career.

“You’re not going to always have a great start,” Brooks said. “But I think he has enough history that he understands that he can bounce back with a bad half. And he did. He made big shot after big shot after big shot. We needed every bit. … That’s what your All-Stars are supposed to do.”

Though disappointed with the outcome, the Wizards took solace in the fact they were competitive against the team that holds the best record in the NBA. They couldn’t say that two months ago — when the Raptors blew them out 125-107 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

That’s a sign of growth for the Wizards, who are just two games out of the eighth seed because of their recent streak.

Washington doesn’t play again until Thursday when it takes on the New York Knicks in London. The team left for the airport immediately after the game as the Wizards plan to use the upcoming days to get acclimated to the time difference.

“We’re taking steps in the right direction,” forward Trevor Ariza said. “Obviously, tonight was a tough one. We wanted to win this one; we had opportunities to win this one, but we’re getting better every day. We’re paying attention, we’re playing harder.”

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