I’m talking about you, Paul Pierce.
The Raptors and Wizards are not only evenly matched teams, they’re also similar in other senses. Both are young teams that made the playoffs for the second year with their respective cores. Both are constructed of talented backcourts that are still trying to reach their full potential. And both have not yet experienced the playoff success that they hope to find. But only one team has Pierce, and that’s going to prove the difference.
Pierce made big news earlier this week when he bashed half the players in the NBA while backing KG to the fullest. But something I didn’t touch on in that recap was when Pierce discussed a potential playoff matchup with the Raptors before they knew they’d be facing each other. Despite being 0-3 against Toronto, The Truth has this to say to ESPN.com: “”We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” Pierce said. “There isn’t a team I look at in the Eastern Conference that makes me say, ‘They are intimidating, we don’t have a chance.'”
Whatever “It” is, Pierce certainly had “It” on Saturday in Game 1 against the Raptors. After not playing many minutes to close out the season, Pierce played 37 minutes and posted a game-high 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown). In what turned out to be an ugly game to watch despite going to OT, Pierce’s buckets were timely. John Wall and Bradley Beal combine to shoot 11-for-41 in the game (Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen combined for 8-for-30 on the other side, UGLY), but as soon as their struggles began, Pierce took over.
Down seven points in the middle of the second quarter, and with little sign of promise on offense, Pierce went off for 10 points in less than four minutes. Washington took a lead into the locker room.
Pierce wasted no time getting going in the second half, his five quick points put the Wizards up 11 points. Then they got away from going to him and it showed. The Raptors came all the way back to tie the game and send it to OT, outscoring the Wiz 26-17 in the fourth without any scoring from Pierce.
When OT kicked off, Pierce knew his team wasn’t going to win without him setting the tone. He hit his fourth triple of the game for the first points of the period and Washington never looked back. Fittingly, it was Pierce that put the final touches on the 93-86 victory on the free throw line.
The Raptors had an answer for everything the Wizards threw at them, except Pierce. He’s the easy example because he was so prominent in this game, but the point it, veteran leadership is very important in the postseason.
Jason Terry helped boost the Rockets to victory after being invisible at times this season. Pau Gasol could be the missing piece for the Bulls and was key to their Game 1 win. Even a guy like Andre Iguodala, who got 31 big minutes off the Warriors bench in Game 1 of their series, can prove to be of extreme value. And in Cleveland, LeBron James may even have to take on a bigger leadership role than usual with his co-stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, playing in their first playoff game on Sunday.
Young stars like John Wall are going to rule the league soon, but not until they learn how to achieve playoff success from their respective Paul Pierce’s.
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