When Chris Broussard asked Paul Pierce if he called bank on his game-winning buzzer beater, Pierce had a simple answer: “I called game!”
The Wizards stormed to a huge lead early on and were cruising to a 2-1 series advantage before Atlanta’s B-team led a near historic comeback to tie the game at 101. But the ageless Pierce was not to be denied, and he drilled an elbow jumper off the glass with three Hawks draped all over him to clinch it.
Washington is lucky they didn’t leave the building wondering how the hell this one got away. For the first three quarters, the story was “no John Wall, no problem”. Okay, maybe not quite, but the Wizards led 85-66 after three. A borderline ejection-worthy flagrant foul Jeff Teague took on Bradley Beal perfectly encapsulated the frustration of the Hawks. None of their All-Stars took charge and the Wizards did a great job taking Kyle Korver out of the game, limiting him to just three shots in his first 34 minutes of gameplay.
Not long after Al Horford left with a minor leg issue early in the fourth, Mike Budenholzer brought in Shelvin Mack and John Jenkins with seven minutes left, officially waving the white flag. But a funny thing happened: the ‘scrubs’ cut the lead to just eight, and Kyle Korver checked back in.
Mike Scott hit another three to cut it to five. Shelvin Mack picked Beal’s pocket to somehow get within one possession. The Hawks bench got seven straight stops on defense en route to a shocking 17-0 run. Notably, usual first-sub Pero Antic (he started today in place of an ill Paul Millsap but only played 15 minutes) was not a part of this surge. Antic is not getting it done at all on either end, bricking threes and allowing countless lanes to the rim. Budenholzer is hesitant to push Horford any more but Antic is getting eaten alive by Washington. Even Elton Brand might be a better choice because he can still position himself defensively. But the best answer may have revealed itself in Mike Scott.
Scott scored eight points and grabbed four boards in his 16 minutes. As long as Washington is going with Drew Gooden and Paul Pierce to space the floor at power forward for long stretches of the game, Budenholzer can afford to slot Scott in. He only made about 34 percent of his threes during the season, but Antic knocked down a horrid 30 percent. A change is necessary.
Kent Bazemore has been brutal too, posting a -16 plus-minus in a game where Atlanta’s bench was overwhelmingly positive. He made three of his four field goals, but he critically missed three of four free throws late in the third quarter in the midst of another Washington run. At the time, it seemed like just another bit of ugliness in a blowout loss. But the game got so close at the end that Bazemore’s free throws could have made a massive difference.
Marcin Gortat made a huge layup with 1:25 remaining to go back up five, yet he then fouled Dennis Schröder on a layup for a three-point play that let Atlanta right back into it. Schröder was fantastic, scoring 18 points and dishing five assists in only 20 minutes. Atlanta cut it to one and fouled Will Bynum, who only took four free throws all season. He drained both to go back up three.
Then MIKE MUSCALA happened.
He drilled an open three to tie the game even though he only had nine career made threes.
But The Truth was not to be denied once again, and the Wizards scraped by with their 2-1 lead. Otto Porter played 22 of 24 first half minutes and was fantastic yet again in 40 minutes overall with 17 points, nine rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers. The points were a career playoff-high, and he led all players in minutes. Porter has quietly become Washington’s second best player with John Wall out indefinitely. His defense and off-ball cuts remain superb, but what’s really crazy is that Porter has rapidly reached the point where it’s legitimately surprising when he misses shots.
After last night’s Bulls-Cavaliers game, it was a bit jarring to see the officials call so many fouls. In the end, it didn’t matter, as the better team limped away with a win on Saturday. Of course, Paul Pierce, the King of the North (and, screw it, Warden of the NBA), doesn’t care at all. He called game.