Lightning couldn’t strike twice.
Paul Pierce hit the game-winner at the buzzer to give the Wizards a Game 3 victory, and got a clean look at a three in Game 4 that would have tied things up with less than six seconds left.
But the shot rimmed off this time, and the Hawks held on for a 106-101 victory to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
Pierce had hit his first five three-pointers of the night, so looking for him late, especially after his Game 3 heroics, was a logical choice. Nene set a rigid screen on DeMarre Carroll, who made it into the game this time, and Pierce was somehow left all alone with the ball in his hands. Carroll diving at his feet may have provided enough of a distraction, and the fact that Pierce couldn’t land cleanly with Carroll in his way was enough to look to the closest referee for a late foul call plea.
But it wasn’t to be. Pierce had a solid night regardless, and finished with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, to go along with five rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Hawks took control of this one from the opening tip, with an aggressive and attacking style of offensive basketball we’ve rarely seen from them in the postseason. Atlanta scored 16 of its first 19 points in the paint or right at the rim, thanks to dribble penetration from Jeff Teague and the signature ball movement we had come to expect from this Atlanta team over the first half of the regular season.
Paul Millsap didn’t start Game 3 due to flu-like symptoms, and was largely ineffective in 22 minutes off the bench. But he came to play in this one, and put together a dominating first half with 15 points and six assists, which helped get his team clicking on the way to scoring 65 points over the game’s first two periods.
Teague dueled with Bradley Beal for most of the second half, with the Hawks remaining in control after staving off a couple of Washington surges. Beal scored 19 of his 34 points over the game’s final two periods, while Teague scored 14 of his 26 in a little over 15 second-half minutes.
The final Wizards run began with 1:12 to play, as they were trailing by seven points. Two quick buckets out of excellent timeout plays drawn up by Randy Wittman — a driving layup by Beal, followed by a dunk from Nene — had the game back within a single possession. Dennis Schröder, who largely played well in finishing with 14 points and eight assists off the bench, took it upon himself to score on a drive, missed, got his own rebound, and then missed again.
That set up the potential for Pierce to rain down terror on the Hawks with his shooting once again. But lightning wasn’t ready to strike twice.