Bradley Beal returned from the protocols for a second time this season on Monday and helped deliver a dominant Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Washington Wizards have been among the NBA teams most impacted by the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, adjusting lineups and pushing staff members into different roles while trying to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
After missing three games for the second time this season, Brad’s return put Washington as close to full strength all season and it showed in a 117-98 victory accomplished without coach Wes Unseld Jr., who is currently in the protocols leaving coaching duties to Joseph Blair, who picked up his first career win as a head coach.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) January 17, 2022
Brad continued to produce in all phases, by scoring 13 points, six rebounds and five assists in the victory and afterward Blair highlighted the importance of Beal’s return, describing the type of impact he has by just being on the floor and the attention he commands.
“I think the numbers don’t do justice what he brought to the game, because, even when he’s not making baskets or giving those assists he still draws the attention of the defense in an unbelievable way and it’s very noticeable,” Blair said postgame. “If you ever see him with the ball, how much everything shifts in his direction, and for him to handle that type of pressure and make the right play, make the right passes, play unselfishly. Brad’s an All-Star player and he’s an All-Star person, quite frankly as well, and I think that that shows in his style of play.”
Brad was one of seven Wizards players in double figures, including four off the bench, led by Montrezl Harrell, who scored 18 points with seven rebounds. The Wizards bench ended up outscoring Philadelphia’s 63-27, and so much scoring off the bench allowed Washington to build a lead that they would not give back in a comfortable 19-point win, despite a big performance from Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who scored a game-high 32 points.
Brad’s impact was felt right away when Spencer Dinwiddie found him open from behind the arc. Moments later, No. 3 hit another jumper and a quick five points from BB in the opening minutes gave Washington the start they wanted, ahead 7-2. Philadelphia worked hard to keep their deficit to a minimum, however Beal kept the pressure on by finding Kuzma open for a jump shot. Shortly thereafter when Beal pulled up for a jumper of his own it pushed the Washington lead back to six, 15-9.
In the final three minutes of the first quarter, Brad continued to dominate by scoring another four points and finding Thomas Bryant for another assist. That gave Beal 11 points in the first quarter and extended Washington’s lead to nine, 38-29.
The second quarter began with Washington keeping their momentum, Harrell played a key role by finding his open teammates as well as scoring six points in the quarter. As a result, when Brad checked in at the 6:45 mark, the Wizards still had a nine-point lead. No. 3 controlled the ball over the final six minutes of the half and made sure his teammates were getting involved, as he found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a three-pointer that pushed the Wiz lead to double digits, 56-44.
In danger of being blown out, the 76ers started to cut Washington’s lead before the half. Philadelphia managed to create separation by setting screens and finding open teammates. Embiid and Seth Curry combined for nine points in the final minutes of the second quarter and Washington went into halftime with just a six-point lead, 61-55.
The third frame began with Brad once again finding Caldwell-Pope open for a jump shot. KCP stayed hot, scoring a quick seven points in the opening minutes of the quarter, which helped Washington build a 13-point lead, 72-59.
As they sought to put the game out of reach, Washington kept everyone involved including Thomas Bryant, who returned from a knee injury last week, almost a year to the day of the injury. In just his third game back, Bryant scored a season-high 15 points, including six in the third, one of those buckets aided by a great find from Brad, who spotted Bryant under the rim for an easy dunk.
However the Sixers had one last gasp as Tyrese Maxey scored six points in the final minute of the third frame, which cut Washington’s lead to single digits, 91-83. Despite making it a close game going into the fourth, Philadelphia could not match the Wizards energy throughout the game, and it showed especially in the fourth, where Washington outscored Philly 26-15. Harrell continued to lead the bench, scoring 12 points in the final quarter helping the Wiz seal a comfortable victory.
Now back to full strength, the Wizards (23-21) showed what they might be capable in the second half of the season, showcasing their depth
with seven players in double figures while also holding a playoff-caliber opponent under 100 points. After a great team performance, Brad reflected on what it means to play on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the significance of MLK’s legacy.
“There’s no better feeling than that because everybody is in the building, we all wouldn’t be here without his fight, his sacrifice,” Beal stated during an interview. “He’s a true humanitarian, led by example and his voice…it still resonates, and granted we’re still not perfect, and we still have a long way to go, but he truly is a pioneer and you have nothing but respect for his legacy for what he did.”
— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) January 17, 2022