Rookie wins game with one-handed shot at the buzzer
On this night, the Verizon Center crowd didn't know who to pull for.
Bradley Beal made sure it was the Wizards.
With an calm but off-balance one-handed jumper from the top of the key with 0.3 seconds left, the rookie guard gave the Wizards an improbable 101-99 victory over the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I said [in the timeout], it's time for us to be on the other end, to have someone step up and make a play," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Bradley made a hell of a shot."
Behind Beal and Martell Webster, who both scored 22 points and were a combined 9-for-13 from 3-point range, the short-handed Wizards (5-28) snapped a five-game skid and earned their second win of the year over one of last year's NBA finalists. It was also their second victory in a row over Oklahoma City (26-8).
"I knew we were going to be in the game because that's just what we do," said A.J. Price, who returned from a 15-game absence with a fractured right hand. "We just need to find a way to be more consistent because we're showing ourselves that we can play with the better teams in this league."
A half-minute before Beal's game-winner, it was NBA scoring champ, All-Star and hometown hero Kevin Durant (game-high 29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) who had sent the crowd into a frenzy with a game-tying 3-pointer. Those in the early work week crowd erupted out of their seats with his monster one-handed jam to pull the visitors to within 95-94 with 2:04 remaining.
Allegiances quickly changed for the crowd of 16,917 when Webster defiantly earned a four-point play at the other end. They were cemented by Beal.
"I was just telling him that a lot of players come in this league and don't hit shots like that -- ever," Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said following his first game back after he missed 17 contests with a left calf strain.
Durant and Russell Westbrook (17 points, eight assists) had both received pregame ovations, but the applause was for the Wizards after they finished the first quarter ahead 30-20. They weren't quite as sure what to do with Jan Vesely's season-high 10 points and seven rebounds. Kevin Seraphin's 19 points mitigated Serge Ibaka's career-high 26.
The Wizards were a shell of a roster, too. A healthy Ariza and Price were canceled out by three players shelved for the night and one who was released. Washington played without its two leading scorers -- Jordan Crawford (sore left ankle) and Nene (right knee tendinitis) -- while Shelvin Mack was cut in order to avoid guaranteeing his contract. All the more slack for Washington's 19-year-old rookie to carry.
"I was exhausted," Beal said. "Coach said, 'If you think I'm taking you out, you're crazy.' I just told him I was going to fight through it, and my teammates did a great job of pushing me."
His head nod did the rest, sending both Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins flying.
"When it comes down to the last shot, there's something about it that lifts you up and you get that energy," Webster said. "He got it, and he was confident in his shot, got two guys to bite on the pump fake, stepped through. Easy. It looked slow motion. He looked very comfortable doing it, like he's done it a hundred times."