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Last-minute adjustment delivers Paul Pierce's game-winner


Last-minute adjustment delivers Paul Pierce's game-winner

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."

MORE WIZARDS: Hawks launch petition to ban game-winning bank shots

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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