DeMarre Carroll wanted to cry. Jeff Teague's perceived state may have required paramedics. No way that happened, not again.
Paul Pierce took the final viable shot for the Washington Wizards in the last four games between the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards. Three times the ball, whether it left the forward's hands under duress or after a clean look, went through the net.
Only twice did the shots count. The third attempt, one the Wizards needed to force overtime in Friday's now or never Game 6, was charmed for the Hawks.
It came with Atlanta leading 94-91.
It came from beyond the 3-point arc, meaning a successful basket leads to more basketball.
It came after a handoff from John Wall, with two defenders in his way and the out-of-bounds dangerously close to grabbing his feet.
It also came a nanosecond after the last second ticked off. One tortuous replay review confirmed the verdict.
Hawks win, advancing to a conference finals for the first time since 1970.
Wizards lose, painfully so considering they played without All-Star guard John Wall three games after suffering five fractures in his left wrist and hand.
But for a moment, the Hawks didn't know they were indeed heading to the next round where LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers await. They thought Paul Pierce delivered the truth once again.
The small forward hit a buzzer-beater to win Game 3. After missing a potential game-tying 3-pointer in Game 4, he sank one with eight seconds left to put Washington ahead in Game 5 only Al Horford to trump his heroics. No wonder they thought here we go again.
"When I turned around I saw Paul Pierce shooting the ball, and I was about to cry and I said not again," Carroll stated.
“I almost had a heart attack," Teague said.
Paul Millsap, a frustrating matchup for the Wizards all series, began planning for more basketball.
"First thought was we have to go get the win in overtime. That was a good shot but we have to get it in overtime," he explained.
Except the good shot wasn't a successful one. Replay showed the ball still touching Pierce's fingertips.
"It went through, fortunately the basketball Gods were on our side, and they let us get through this one," said Carroll.
The Hawks also made their own luck.
After the Wizards' bench pulled Washington even in the first half, Atlanta seemingly took control with a 23-8 run starting late in the second quarter.
After Wall and bradley Beal fueled a Wizards comeback that put Washington up 88-87 with 3:50 remaining, Atlanta didn't fold.
“We kept saying this is where we want to be, we are OK," Kyle Korver said. "They are going to make runs, they are at home, and they are a great team. We just stayed positive and kept on believing, and we were able to pull this win out.”
Carroll hit consecutive layups off beautifully designed plays to put the Hawks ahead for good at 93-89 with 39 seconds remaining.
"We ran a play mainly for Jeff Teague or Al Horford, but I knew they were going to key in on them so I made the decision to slash to the rack," Carroll said of his decisive basket. "Slashing it is what I do best and when you have a good point guard like Jeff he can get you the ball in the right spot.”
Defensively, the Hawks held the Wizards to 36.6 percent shooting from the field, including 4 of 18 from the free throw line. Now they march on to the next round.
"I think for our organization it's something we can take a lot of pride in," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of reaching the conference finals. "There was a lot of great work put in all year."
It nearly came undone by another shot from Pierce.
"When the shot went in, my initial reaction was you have to be kidding me," Korver exclaimed. "That was a tough moment to digest. We shortly saw the replay after that, and hey it wasn’t pretty at all, but we got it done.”
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