Paul Pierce ended the Raptors’ postseason run last year with a series-saving blocked shot in Game 7 of the first round matchup while he was a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
A year later, now with the Wizards, he remains the bane of Toronto’s playoff existence.
Pierce finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting to lead the Wizards to a 93-86 Game 1 victory, one that needed an overtime session to be decided.
Washington’s backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal struggled, shooting just 5-of-18 and 6-of-23 from the field respectively. But Pierce was there when needed, and scored 10 of his points in the second quarter during a critical stretch that turned a seven-point Toronto lead into a four-point Wizards advantage before the halftime intermission.
Washington’s lead grew to as many as 11 points in the third, thanks to its fifth-ranked defense giving Toronto fits. The Raptors shot just 28 percent in the period, and missed all seven of their attempts from three-point distance.
In the fourth, however, Toronto’s bench unit, which we knew would be a factor coming into the series, was able to bring the team back. Part of it was due to Beal’s insistence on shooting so much when he was clearly having an off day, but the Raptors took advantage. Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez each had eight points in the period, and their production was especially needed once Kyle Lowry fouled out of the game with 2:36 to play.
Wall had a chance to win it in regulation, but dribbled down most of the clock before going one-on-one and missing a pull-up jumper with just tenths of a second left.
In overtime, it was once again Pierce time. He began the scoring for the Wizards in the extra session by hitting a three, and ended it by helping to seal the victory with a couple of free throws. Toronto didn’t score in overtime until there were just 29 seconds left, and only did so because the Wizards had a big enough lead and no longer needed to contest the shots.
Pierce was the focus of the Raptors before the series even began, thanks to remarks he made in an interview leading up to the playoffs. “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” he said,
Toronto GM Masai Ujiri responded colorfully in front of fans before Game 1, similar to what he did a season ago before a playoff game against Pierce’s Nets.
There were other reasons Washington was able to get this win; the rebounding advantage, especially on the offensive boards, was massive. And, the Wizards got timely contributions from guys like Kevin Seraphin and Drew Gooden off the bench, which hasn’t been something the team has been able to count on reliably this season.
But had the Raptors paid as much attention to Pierce on the court as they did to comments he made off of it, they may have had a better chance in this one — especially on a day where Wall and Beal, the Wizards’ primary scorers, were so obviously out of sync.