No way around it: Bradley Beal loves this fucking building.
The last time the Wizards' second-year player took the court at Madison Square Garden, he was blowing by an unsuspecting Beno Udrih, gliding to the lane as Andrea Bargnani stood in the wrong spot and finishing an easy layup to give the Wizards a critical victory. That game-winner was easy.
This one? This one was difficult. It came on a broken play that was supposed to mirror San Antonio's beautiful Baseline Hammer motion. It came in a crowd, not with a clear path to the rim. It came with Iman Shumpert right behind him looking to block the shot.
No matter. Swish. Wizards lead. And after another defensive stand on Carmelo Anthony, Washington had its huge victory, 90-89. The Bobcats were staved off again, and the Knicks were in a pit of despair.
This was the cliche moment coaches love. The young stars, green earlier in the year, beaten down by botched late-game situations that no college program could have possibly prepared him to face. The failure that threatened to beat him down, used instead as a teachable moment for some undetermined time down the road. And then, that moment arriving, and those same players not folding, not failing, but instead learning, succeeding, persevering.
That's an oversimplification, of course. Beal did win the game here last time and has won games before. But he still was playing poorly, missing Nene, missing his comfort in the offense. Tonight, like last time, the Wizards gave him the ball, and the 20-year old won it. For all the angst, how many kids this young could have done what Beal did tonight?