WASHINGTON -- It was the moment Wizards fans were waiting for the last five weeks. The Verizon Center fans rose to their feet and applauded as Bradley Beal's name was called with around five minutes left in the first quarter.
That crowd was poised to explode shortly later when John Wall found Beal for a wide-open three-pointer from the wing after the Wizards grabbed an offensive rebound. While that shot didn't fall, the play was a glimpse of what the Wizards want to be at their best, with one of the game's best distributors hitting one of the NBA's best long-range shooters for a wide-open look from deep.
Beal showed he was more than just a spot-up shooter later in the quarter, displaying his improved playmaking ability by driving the baseline and drawing the attention of three Dallas defenders before finding Marcin Gortat for an easy two in the paint. He would get himself on the scoreboard shortly thereafter, using the two-man handoff action the Wizards run with he and Gortat to launch a long baseline two that Tyson Chandler's outstretch arms couldn't reach.
Beal's return couldn't have come at a better time. Garrett Temple, who replaced Beal in the starting lineup while Beal recovered from a broken hand, has seen his shooting percentages fall off a cliff after a promising start to the season. Nowhere was this more evident than when Temple hit the side of a backboard on an open corner 3, stole the rebound, and proceeded to airball a corner three on the other side of the basket.
As if by osmosis, the Wizards' outside shooters suddenly started finding their mark with the return of Big Panda. Coming into the game with a mere 43 three pointers made in nine games, the Wizards hit 10 of their 22 attempts on the night, helping keep Washington in the game when Wall and Nene couldn't hit shots. Paul Pierce came to life from the perimeter, shaking off defenders several times with pump fakes to get a better look from beyond the arc. Otto Porter and Rasual Butler joined the party, hitting a pair from deep. Of course, Beal himself added three on the night.
More than just hitting shots from outside, Beal showed the aggressive playmaking tendencies that were on display in the playoffs were no anomaly. He had no reticence attacking the basket when he saw an opening. Early in the second quarter, he used the Kris Humprhies hand-off screen, but instead of settling for a mid-range jumper, he faked Jae Crowder out of his shoes and went straight to the rim, finishing adeptly with his off hand around Chandler.
Only three of Beal's 17 attempts came on mid- to long-range twos, a welcome sight considering last year's angst. According to the NBA's Player Tracking data, Beal had five drives last night, greater than the 3.2 per game he averaged in 2013-2014.
"It was a big lift just to see him come out there confident especially after so much time off," Paul Pierce said. "It just seemed like he just really didn't miss a beat. I'm sure he'll be in that starting lineup soon enough."
Though Beal and Randy Wittman acknowledged conditioning was an issue in his first game back, Beal said his wrist felt fine and he's ready to do whatever Wittman needs. Wittman will need his continued scoring to match the high-powered Cleveland offense on Friday.
Wittman's counterpart, Rick Carlise, was fulsome in his praise for Beal's abilities
"With Wall, Pierce and Beal out there, you have three all-star caliber guys on the perimeter," the Mavericks' coach said before the game. "It gives them another go to guy on the perimeter that can drive it, shoot midrange and make threes, and he's a playmaker too."
With 21 points and three assists in just 26 minutes of action, Beal showed the playmaking that Carlisle noted. The Wizards lost a hard fought, winnable game, and we will have to wait a little to see Beal play without restrictions.
But let's not forget the important fact here: Brad is back.