WASHINGTON (AP) — After hitting a 3-pointer to double the Washington Wizards’ lead with 16.3 seconds left, Paul Pierce turned to the stands with arms aloft, nodded and yelled, “That’s why I’m here!”
Yes, the Wizards wanted the 37-year-old Pierce for his leadership and his past postseason success. They also signed him as a free agent to make the clutch, closing shot in the playoffs.
John Wall drew choruses of “M-V-P!” from the crowd by producing 19 points and 15 assists, but it was Pierce who hit two key 3s late as part of an 18-point performance, and the Wizards closed in on a first-round playoff sweep by beating the Toronto Raptors 106-99 on Friday night.
“My adrenaline is through the roof right now. … I’m just enjoying the moment. I love playoff basketball. I love everything about it,” Pierce said. “At this point in my career, I’m savoring these moments, because I don’t know how many more of these moments I’m going to have.”
He’s already accrued quite a collection.
On a resume that includes winning the 2008 NBA title with the Boston Celtics, Friday’s game was the 151st of Pierce’s playoff career; he entered this series averaging 20.3 points.
“You’re not playing against chopped liver,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Paul Pierce won a championship. He knows how to play.”
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, who scored a team playoff-record 20 points in the first quarter and 32 overall, summed up Pierce’s status this way: “He still is who he is.”
The Wizards lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series 3-0 and can end it Sunday, when they host Game 4. No NBA team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series.
“We’re still on life support. It’s not over yet,” Casey said. “There’s no ‘give-up’ on this team.”
Perhaps. But even though the Raptors won all three regular-season meetings between the teams, they have been inconsistent all series.
Plus, now Washington has reason to believe it can win at home. Over the past two postseasons, the Wizards are 7-1 on the road — Randy Wittman is the first NBA coach to begin his playoff career that way — but they entered Friday with a 1-4 mark in Washington during that span.
Six Wizards scored in double figures, including Marcin Gortat, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Bradley Beal added 16 points, 33-year-old Drew Gooden had 12, and Otto Porter had 11.
“That’s us,” Wittman said. “We’re not a two-man team.”
The game was tied at 88 with 4 1/2 minutes left, when Washington pulled away thanks to 3-pointers, including two each from Porter and Pierce, who averaged the fewest minutes of his 17-year career this season
Toronto led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, thanks mainly to DeRozan. But he missed all four shots he took in the second quarter and the first five he took in the third. His backcourt mate, All-Star Kyle Lowry, struggled most of the game, ending up with 15 points and seven assists.
“We’ll have a good quarter and a bad quarter,” said Lowry, whose voice cracked as he spoke.
About 75 minutes before tipoff, Lowry sat in front of his locker and sipped from a paper cup containing hot tea. He’s dealing with a cold, a bruised left shin and a lingering back problem, and after making two early 3-pointers, he missed his next 11 shots, including one when Wall swooped in from behind to block it.
Later, Wall made a fastbreak layup, pounded his chest with his fist, and shouted, “This is my … city!” — all while looking in the general direction of Canadian rapper Drake, the Raptors’ “Global Brand Ambassador,” who was seated courtside.
Raptors: The previous mark for points in a playoff quarter by a Raptor was Vince Carter’s 19 against Philadelphia in 2001.
Wizards: Washington made a franchise playoff-record 12 3-pointers. … Porter, a second-year forward from Georgetown, is “growing right in front of our eyes,” Gooden said.
Beal briefly left the game but returned, and Wittman said he thought the guard had bumped knees with another player. “When he came back and said he could go back in the game, I didn’t ask any question,” Wittman said.
Perhaps with an eye toward Washington’s 30-rebound margin on the glass in Games 1 and 2, Casey made one change to his starting lineup, inserting Amir Johnson and dropping Tyler Hansbrough. Johnson finished with 12 rebounds, along with 14 points, and the Wizards held only a 45-41 edge on the boards.
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