In the final 14 seconds of Game 3, and the Wizards reeling after blowing all of a 21-point lead, Bradley Beal tossed the ball to Paul Pierce expecting to get it back. But the 16-year veteran had a simple command for the third-year guard: "Get out the way."
Pierce was being defended by Dennis Schroder, who at 6-1 is six inches shorter and 67 pounds lighter and caught in a switch. Pierce backed him down, and even with help from Kent Bazemore who left Beal open they had no chance. Pierce banked in the second playoff buzzer-beater of his career, and third playoff game-winning shot with three seconds or fewer on the clock.
"I caught it at the elbow and I saw Schroder on me and I saw Beal, he was at the top of the key with his man helping so I was yelling at him, 'Get out, give me some room' so I can either go left or right," said Pierce, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
"I got the ball in a great spot. Coach drew up the play. It's a play we just put in yesterday. Got the switch. Got the smaller guy on me. Took my time. Wanted to make sure I got the shot off with no time on the clock. I've been in that situation many times. ... Got to my spot and was able to knock it down."
The basket was Pierce's only of the fourth quarter. No one on the Wizards had more than one field goal there, which is why they squandered a 91-70 lead.
When the Wizards moved on from Trevor Ariza, who left for the Houston Rockets, they had Pierce in their back pocket last summer. Pierce was half the cost ($5 million per) at half the years (two) than what Ariza wanted to re-sign. Plus Pierce gave them offensive versatility as a player who could get his own shot without John Wall's help and play more effectively at the stretch four.
Pierce's three-pointer in Game 1 of an overtime game in the first round with the Toronto Raptors gave the Wizards a lead they'd never lose as they stole home-court advantage. In a Game 1 upset on the road in Atlanta, Pierce had a pair of free throws to extend the lead to six, and when the Hawks made another run his jumper pushed the lead to 93-90 with less than six minutes left.
"It kind of looked like he had three people on him," said Beal, as Kyle Korver also shifted towards Pierce but never really contested the final shot. "I was like, 'Is that a good shot?' He made it. I was the first one over there. I know his chest probably hurt. I hit him in the chest 10 times."
The postseason is about adjustments, and just as the Hawks confused the Wizards in a 106-90 win in Game 2 by switching out their bigs on smaller players, they adjusted in return. Coach Randy Wittman had them ready.
"We were small. We wanted to get the ball into Paul's hands and we set it with Will (Bynum) with the screen and hopefully get a smaller guy on him which they did," Wittman explained. "And he makes the shot. Big-time shot by a big-time player."
Drew Gooden smiled when asked about how they set up Atlanta for the fall and finally making them pay for their switches.
"We've been working on that play just for that reason," said Gooden, who had five points and five rebounds off the bench. "Paul, actually on that same play, hit a three-pointer in the first half and we came back to that late for that last possession. They sent three guys at him. Paul hit them with the famous stepback. I thought it was long. It was long. But it went in."
After Paul Millsap said he believed that the Hawks had "internally" won Game 1 vs. the Wizards. Schroder wasn't willing to concede to Pierce so easily.
"At the end, it was a lucky shot and we lost the game," Schroder said after scoring 16 of his team-high 18 points in the fourth to lead Atlanta's comeback. "That's a tough shot. I don't think he makes it every time."
Pierce, 37, brushed off Schroder's dismissive comment. "He's young," Pierce said with a laugh about the 21-year-old, second-year guard before referencing a popular video game. "He probably missed with me in (NBA) 2K."
Wall didn't play for the second game in a row because of his fractured left wrist, but the Wizards still had a 27-23 assists edge. Pierce's big shots keep coming.
"I knew he would get a good look. I figured it would go in," said Ramon Sessions, Wall's replacement. "Because that's what he does. He's a Hall of Famer and it's just showing in this whole playoff run."
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