Wall, Beal show progress in their playo≠ ed­u­ca­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY CAN­DACE BUCK­NER

The evo­lu­tion of John Wall and Bradley Beal can be best viewed from an out­sider’s per­spec­tive.

In May 2014, Ian Mahinmi was a key re­serve player for the top-seeded In­di­ana Pac­ers, who faced the Wash­ing­ton Wizards in the Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. Back then, the Wizards were mak­ing their first post­sea­son ap­pear­ance in six sea­sons. Wall was in his fourth year of car­ry­ing the bur­den as fran­chise point guard. Beal wasn’t old enough to legally en­joy the goods from the co­gnac com­pany that spon­sored the Wiz­ard Girls. Their youth and in­ex­pe­ri­ence showed as the Pac­ers wrapped up the se­ries in Game 6 on Wash­ing- ton’s home floor.

In that game, Beal needed 19 cracks at the rim just to get 16 points. Wall missed 11 of 16 shot at­tempts, in­clud­ing all four from be­yond the three-point arc.

Three years later, the Wizards faced another elim­i­na­tion Game 6, and no longer did Wall and Beal have the ap­pear­ance of wide-eyed fawns frozen by speed­ing head­lights. Met­tle re­placed im­ma­tu­rity as the pair traded clutch shots in the fourth

quar­ter Fri­day night against the Bos­ton Celtics. Then for the fi­nale, the sig­na­ture shot that could de­fine Wall’s first seven years in the NBA: a gutsy three­p­ointer with 3.5 sec­onds re­main­ing in Wash­ing­ton’s 92-91 vic­tory, a shot that Coach Scott Brooks de­scribed as one of “the big­gest shots I’ve seen, as a player or as a coach.”

On Mon­day night in Game 7 of the Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals, the pair will be re­lied upon again to carry the fran­chise to new heights. It will be the first Game 7 for Wall and Beal — and the team’s first since the 1979 con­fer­ence fi­nals.

Mahinmi, who has played more Game 7s than any­one on the Wizards’ ros­ter, ex­pects it to be yet another op­por­tu­nity to mar­vel at the de­vel­op­ment of his team­mates who were once op­po­nents.

“Now those guys are not ba­bies any­more. They’re closers,” said Mahinmi, the Wizards’ backup cen­ter. “They’re proven closers.”

“You could tell, at the end of the game it was no hes­i­ta­tion from those two guys,” Mahinmi con­tin­ued, then high­lighted Beal’s three-pointer with 1:09 re­main­ing af­ter he had missed his first seven in the game. “Bradley came up and shot that three with full con­fi­dence. The whole en­tire sta­dium knew it was go­ing in.”

Only three Wizards scored in the se­cond half. Marki­eff Mor­ris pro­vided nine points, in­clud­ing an open three-pointer in the fi­nal quar­ter, while Beal and Wall took care of the heavy lift­ing. The duo com­bined for 42 of the team’s 51 se­cond-half points, prov­ing that a pow­er­ful pair can take on an en­tire team — seven Bos­ton play­ers pitched in through the se­cond half and yet still got outscored.

Be­fore the start of the 2016-17 sea­son, Wall and Beal made head­lines about their work re­la­tion­ship, or lack thereof. Wall even ad­mit­ted how the two “have a ten­dency to dis­like each other on the court.” Through­out the fourth quar­ter Fri­day, the im­proved rap­port showed as the guards played off one another. Wall de­liv­ered a pass to a cut­ting Beal for a re­verse layup that tied the score with 9:05 re­main­ing. Later, as Wall helped cre­ate a turnover by Celtics guard Isa­iah Thomas, Beal drilled that rallystart­ing three that trimmed the Wizards’ deficit to 87-85.

Off the court, their chem­istry re­mains pal­pa­ble. Their postgame podium in­ter­views have be­come a dead­pan com­edy act. Fol­low­ing Game 4, Wall used a fem­i­nine pro­noun for his jumper, ex­plain­ing his 0-for-9 start was just a mat­ter of “she’s just not act­ing right.” Beal, shar­ing the dais, chimed in: “That’s how it be. Some­times she just don’t fall through that bas­ket.” Fri­day night, the pair sensed another mo­ment for chem­istry, silently nod­ding in uni­son to a re­porter’s ques­tion for com­i­cal ef­fect.

Although the Wizards did not send Wall to speak to re­porters Satur­day af­ter­noon, one could draw a con­clu­sion about his feel­ings on Beal. Ear­lier in the day, Wall retweeted a Game 6 story about Beal’s im­pact with the ap­prov­ing mes­sage: “For sure !!” Be­cause with­out Beal’s big buck­ets, there would be no scream­ing on top of the scorer’s ta­ble.

Mahinmi said he had watched a re­play of Wall’s three-pointer a “mil­lion times.” Though he might be given to en­thu­si­as­tic ex­ag­ger­a­tion, Mahinmi could not help but ex­ult in his new team­mates. He has seen the Wall and Beal from three years ago and knows just how much they have grown.

“All those shots were like no hes­i­ta­tion,” Mahinmi said. “You could tell from the bench, you could tell from be­ing on the floor, those guys are now calm when it comes down to tak­ing the last shots and game-win­ning shots.”

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Wizards’ Bradley Beal shoots a three-pointer over the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk dur­ing Fri­day night’s Game 6. Beal fin­ished with 33 points.

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

John Wall, who scored 26 points and hit the win­ning three-pointer with 3.5 sec­onds re­main­ing, cel­e­brates Wash­ing­ton’s 92-91 vic­tory.

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