Bradley Beal once lost a game at Madison Square Garden. He was a 19-year-old rookie in the 14th game of his pro career in his first appearance at MSG. And since then, Beal hasn’t lost a game on this court.
That was in November of 2012.
“I feel like every time I step into this building,” he said, “I need to have a great game.”
He seems to do that regularly and, as a result, the Wizards win every time. Beal had 27 points to lead Washington to their 9th straight win at The Garden and, overall, the 17th in the last 19 against the Knicks. Add Beal to the list of NBA all-stars who just love playing at The Garden . . . as an opponent.
“It is a true basketball building,” Beal gushed after the game. “There’s legacy and history here.”
Eventually, as David Fizdale continues to build the culture, which he calls “Knicks DNA,” this kind of stuff has to stop. Someone needs to compile a list of opposing players who love playing at The Garden and make them very uncomfortable. Beal had it quite easy, as he hit 12 of 25 from the field and did almost all of his work from inside the arc. He struggled from downtown (2 of 8) and was barely touched by Knicks defense.
During the Wizards’ winning streak at The Garden, Beal has averaged 23.5 points per game on 50.7% shooting.
“It’s a big stage,” he continued, “with lots of lights.”
Sounds like he really enjoys playing here.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks, the former Knick, remembers a time when it wasn’t so enjoyable to play the Knicks at home. But that was a different game and those were different players with a much different attitude about letting opponents preen on your court. Brooks has got his hands full with this group — the Wizards are one of the most unlikable teams in the NBA — but to his credit, he found something that worked in the second half: that defensive mindset he remembers from those old Knicks teams. A 9-point halftime lead for the current Knicks turned into an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter. The veteran Wizards simply imposed their will.
“They really took us out of our stuff,” Fizdale said.
Beal scored 8 points in a third quarter that had the Knicks suddenly reeling in a 28-8 run that felt a lot like the 17-0 run the Bucks had in the third quarter on Saturday. The Knicks managed to rally back from that (“Keep chopping the tree”) and after going down by 15 with 3:33 to play, they somehow pushed the Wizards to the final seconds.
“That’s us, that’s our team,” Fizdale said. “As long as there’s time on the clock, our guys will fight to try to win the game.”
A 12-0 run got the Knicks within three with 35 seconds left and The Garden was suddenly alive with the possibility of another comeback win. And when Beal was bottled up at the top of the key on the next possession, there was potential for a turnover. But Beal managed to get the ball to John Wall on the perimeter and Wall, who had been 0 for 4 from three-point range in the game, drilled the dagger three with 12 seconds left. The all-star guard held up three fingers and the Wizards flexed on The Garden court yet again.
That clinched Washington’s second straight win and 5th in their last 8. Remember, they started the season 2-9. They’re now 10-14 and probably checking the calendar for their next visit to Madison Square Garden. Nine straight wins in one building will make you do such a thing.
“Hopefully,” Brooks said, “there’s a 10th one.”
– After allowing 61 points to the Knicks at halftime, the Wizards turned up the defense in the second half. They forced 10 turnovers in the second half and allowed just 18 points in the paint. The Knicks guards struggle against length defenders and the Wizards small-ball lineup caused guards like Emmanuel Mudiay (4 turnovers) and Allonzo Trier (scoreless in 15:21) all kinds of issues with getting dribble penetration. Possessions were disjointed and sloppy. But on the other side of the floor, the Knicks had a very soft effort on defense while Washington began to dominate. The Knicks committed just two fouls in the third quarter, despite that 28-8 run. You’d think you’d want to get a little more physical when a team gets that comfortable in your building. “That third quarter,” Fizdale said, “was the death of us.”
– Kevin Knox followed up his 26-point breakout game on Saturday with a good start. He had 8 points at the half, but then missed all 4 of his shots in the second half to finish with 8 points, but he did add 9 rebounds and 4 assists in 27:58. While his set shot has beautiful arc and touch, Knox does seem to have some strength issues when he drives to the basket or when he’s on the move. It’s reasonable to assume once he gets an offseason or two of maturing and strength training, Knox could grow into being a very effective scorer and rebounder.
– With Frank Ntilikina on the bench for a second straight DNP-CD, veteran Courtney Lee made his season debut after missing the first 24 games with a neck issue. Lee had 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in 15:31 and the bench erupted when he scored his first point of the season on a free throw. There were also some chuckles when he missed a fast break layup after coming up with what was a big steal in the Knicks’ late push. The Knicks at the time were down 10 with 2:07 left, so it’s not as if the play cost them the game, but it was a critical moment. Still, Fizdale allowed a moment during an ensuing timeout for Lee to decompress after the embarrassing play. Lee said it was “probably too much adrenaline. I was moving fast, my legs were burning so I didn’t trust them to try to dunk it, but I was going fast so I laid it off the backboard too hard.” If you’ve ever played the game and had to miss time from injury (I’ve been there!) you’d be able to relate to that moment for Lee. It takes some time for your body to readjust to game speed and your muscles to get acclimated. For Lee, however, it was a long and concerning process for him to overcome his neck injury. He suffered whiplash-type injury that affected nerves in his neck and it did not, at first respond to treatment. “Overall I’m just happy to be back out there and able to play again,” he said. “I was definitely nervous that it could have been career-ending. injury.”
– Enes Kanter had yet another double-double (13 points, 16 rebounds) but played only 25 minutes as a result of both teams playing small. Before the game, Kanter was livid when the NBA Europe Instagram account omitted him from a post that said it was “celebrating the best Turkish talent in the NBA” and asked which player has had the best season so far. The issue is, Kanter was not among the players featured and he is, by far, the best Turkish player in the NBA. Instead, the NBA Europe account showed Cedi Osman (Cavaliers), Furkan Korkmaz (76ers) and Ersan Ilyasova (Bucks). Kanter re-tweeted the photo and wrote, “Wow! Scared to put my name up there” and added, “u scared little rats.” He also added #DictatorErdogan which is in reference to Tyyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey whom Kanter has publicly attacked for years. Kanter’s exile from Turkey, subsequent warrants for his arrest and concerns for his family’s safety in his home country has been well-documented. The NBA Europe account quickly apologized for the omission and re-posted the photo with Kanter included. Kanter tweeted, “Apology accepted.”
– So that’s 9 straight wins for the Wizards at The Garden, which ties another team for the longest active winning streak by an opponent on the Knicks’ home court. That would be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have won 9 straight since March 23, 2014. Their next visit is Feb. 28. Meanwhile, the Wizards won’t be back to try to make it 10 straight until April 7, which is Game No. 80 on the season. By the way, 9 straight is also the most consecutive regular season wins at the current Madison Square Garden by an opponent. The record against the Knicks, however, is 10, which was set at the Old Garden on 49th Street just before the current Garden had opened. It was a familiar opponent that seemed to win wherever they played during this era. But the Knicks would get their revenge a few years later with an epic, historic victory on that team’s home court.
Can you guess the team?