On this day five years ago, Paul Pierce banked in a game-winner as the Washington Wizards defeated the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
It feels like just yesterday, doesn’t it?
Five years ago, the Washington Wizards were trending upwards as they saw themselves battling it out with the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in an entertaining second-round playoff matchup. Being led by a 24-year-old John Wall and a 21-year-old Bradley Beal, a lot of people saw this series as the “arrival” of the new-look Washington Wizards. A team that could truly contend for a championship in the nation’s capital.
The Pierce Year
The 2014-2015 Washington Wizards season will probably always be looked at as the year of Paul Pierce. It seemed like every other game, the seasoned veteran was hitting some sort of clutch shot.
Wall and Beal may have been the faces of that squad, but Pierce was pivotal in helping the young Wiz kids “arrive”. In the later stages of his career, Pierce wasn’t putting up the Hall of Fame numbers he had with the Boston Celtics — he averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists that season. But Pierce was still a key cog in helping the Wizards win 46 games that season, the second-highest win total the team’s had since 1979.
And he saved his best for last.
The Wizards finished that season as the 5th seed in the East and had a first-round matchup with the Toronto Raptors.
It was clear from the beginning that the Raptors did not like the Wizards and the Wizards did not like the Raptors, so this first-round series was going to be a war zone. Pierce had some “strong” opinions about the Raptors, and didn’t keep them to himself.
This led them to a second-round matchup with the 1st seeded Atlanta Hawks who had won 60 games that season and were trotting out four All-Stars in their starting lineup – Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford, and Paul Milsap.
Regardless of the matchup, the Wizards were up for the challenge and left Atlanta with a statement win in Game 1, 104-98. Beal and Pierce chipped in 28 and 19 points respectively. It looked like the Wizards had the momentum.
Then the unthinkable. After taking a hard fall during Game 1, the Wizards learned Johnn Wall broke his hand and would miss the next three games.
With Wall out, the Wizards had rely heavily on the 21-year-old Beal and 37-year-old Pierce. The two would not disappoint. After losing Game 2 without Wall, the series went back to Washington where Paul Pierce would go back into his bag of tricks.
The Wizards were cruising at home in Game 3, and took a 26-point lead into the fourth quarter. It looked like they could pack it in and get ready for Game 4.
But the Hawks said, ‘not so fast!”
Usually, if the Wizards needed one bucket it would be a no-brainer. Give it to Wall. But without John Wall in the lineup, Head Coach Randy Wittman had to get creative with the final play. So who was going to take the last shot?
After receiving a pass from Beal, Pierce asked for a clear-out on the left elbow. After Dennis Schroeder switched onto Pierce, it was time to go to work.
Paul let the clock wind down before making his move.
One dribble. Step back. Off glass. Game Over.
Paul Pierce banked in the game-winner to take Game 3 against Atlanta.
Sometimes that clutch gene never leaves you. Even at 37, Pierce showed that he could still do damage in crunch time. For a guy who has hit clutch shot after clutch shot in his career, Paul Pierce was good for one more. This time, it was in a Wizards jersey.
After being mobbed by teammates and team personnel Pierce was interviewed by Chris Broussard after the game.
The first question that Broussard asked Pierce would end up being his last.
‘”Did you call bank?”
I called game.