Grizzled veteran Paul Pierce reached the playoffs in 11 of 15 NBA campaigns entering this season, his first with the Wizards.
In his previous postseason trips, Pierce’s team managed just one sweep, whisking the Knicks in 2011. He twice was on the broom’s wrong end, as New Jersey swept his Celtics in 2003 and Indiana did likewise in 2004.
After the Wizards beat Toronto Friday for a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series, Pierce told his teammates that closing out to complete the sweep would be their hardest contest yet.
Turns out that was far from the truth.
The last game was a laugher as they throttled Toronto, 125-94, for the first 4-0 sweep in franchise history. The Wizards jumped on them from the start, extinguishing the Raptors’ hope and choking their competitive spirit.
Washington stepped on their back, punched them in the throat and snatched their heart. From Paul Pierce’s block on the game’s first shot, to Bradley Beal’s three free throws that produced a 102-70 lead at the end of three quarters, the Wizards displayed a killer spirit heretofore unseen on Verizon Center hardwood (or ice).
That Wizards team that limped down the stretch? Nowhere to be found. The outfit that blew big leads and fumbled away victories? Just a bad memory. The Wizards we saw throughout this series were better than the pre-All Star version and Sunday night’s performance was the best all year.
“We just came out ready to play,” forward Marcin Gortat said after another strong outing (21 points and a game-high 11 rebounds). “Everyone contributed and we were really focused from the first minute to the last minute.”
Gortat was 8-for-9 from the floor to pace his torrid teammates. The Wizards connected on 55 percent of their field goals overall and a ridiculous 58 percent on 3-pointers (15 of 26). Every player who attempted at least one 3-pointer shot 50 percent or better except for Rasual Butler, who was 0-for-1 in garbage time.
“I’m really proud of our group,” coach Randy Wittman said. “They’ve been locked in and in tune with what we had to do. Very business-like. I challenged them the last two games that I needed to see us play like we were the desperate, come out like our backs were against the all and lay it on the line. These guys did it right from the start.”
Unlike in Game 3, when Raptors hung close throughout to remain hopeful of playing another home game, there were discouraged early and often. The Wizards shot 71 percent from the floor in the first quarter while opening a 36-22 lead. Toronto also saw it All-Star guard Kyle Lowery pick up his third foul in the opening 12 minutes.
“We had three tough games going into it and we knew if things didn’t go the right way, adversity might hit, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Washington had one of the best games I have ever seen them play. They hit every shot. I thought we were just emotionally drained and gave in.”
They gave in to a relentless attack as John Wall continued to push the ball and find open shooters, or slow things down and find open cutters. Wall took just five shots but finished with 14 points and 10 assists.
“He had his hand in everything,” Wittman said. “That’s key for us – ball movement and player movement. When we do that we really are a good team.”
Wittman had zero interest in revisiting what happened to his good team in the second half of the season, when it morphed into a mediocre team – at least record-wise. But forward Drew Gooden didn’t mind giving his take
“We came out of the All-Star break on cruise control, waiting for the playoffs said Gooden, who provided a spark with 13 points off the bench. “Being swept by Toronto in the regular season had our antennas up. So did being on the road to start. We came in overly-prepared and ready to win.”
And they were ready to seal the deal before Toronto could get a whiff of Game 5. Washington saved its best for last, which should bode well for the next round against Atlanta or Brooklyn. The Wizards were killers Sunday night and had a blast at the same time.
“We’re having fun distributing the ball,” Gortat said. “It doesn’t matter who scores ass long as we’re winning. We have to get eveybody and involved and continue to play like that.
Having rocked Toronto in four games, the Wizards officially are on a roll.