For the fourth straight game in this Eastern Conference semifinal, Paul Pierce had a chance to shoot for the tie or the win in the closing seconds. For the fourth straight game, the Washington Wizards got the ball into the hands of the future Hall of Famer, the veteran they signed this summer for swagger and shot-making, and asked him to keep their dream alive.
He made the shot. He just didn’t make it fast enough.
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With 6.4 seconds left in Friday’s do-or-die Game 6, the Wizards trailed the Atlanta Hawks by three points, 94-91, and needed another miracle to stave off elimination. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, Washington’s top gun throughout this second-round series and a dead-eye shotmaker who’d rung up a game-high 29 points, inbounded the ball to backcourt mate John Wall. DeMarre Carroll, the Hawks’ top perimeter stopper, was all over the All-Star point guard from the moment he caught the ball, hounding him above the 3-point arc and forcing precious seconds off the clock.
Wall dribbled to the middle of the floor, then pitched the ball back to his left to the 37-year-old Pierce, just above the break on the left wing. “The Truth” dribbled hard to his left, taking a bump from Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, then leapt, faded and released. The ball splashed through the net with the clock reading triple-zero, sending the Verizon Center crowd into hysterics at the prospect of a season-extending overtime … and sending the referees to the replay review monitor to check to see if Pierce had gotten the shot off in time.
As the officials huddled at the scorer’s table, ESPN’s broadcast replays relayed the news to the audience watching at home: The ball still rested on Pierce’s fingertips as the red light came on to signal the end of the fourth quarter. No basket. No overtime. No Game 7. Hawks win, 94-91.
And just like that, with a wave of the official’s arms, the Hawks eliminated the Wizards, four games to two. Atlanta advances to the NBA’s final four for the first time since 1970, when they were still in the Western Division. They’ll take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who eliminated the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, in the Eastern Conference finals.
After leading the Hawks with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including two huge baskets in the final minute to put Atlanta back in the lead after a furious Wizards run to erase a 15-point deficit, Carroll was asked after the game whether he thought that the final shot from Pierce — the bank-shot hero of Game 3, who came up just short in Game 4 and saw Al Horford steal his thunder in Game 5 — had once again come just in time.
“Nah, I knew it wasn’t good when it left his hand,” Carroll, who added 10 rebounds, two steals, an assist and stellar perimeter defense, told ESPN’s Chris Broussard. “I heard somebody screaming, ‘SHOOT IT!’ So I knew then it wasn’t good.
“But man, he hit so many big shots,” Carroll said, smiling in spite of himself. “It’s crazy.”
It’s crazy, and it’s brutal, and it’s another one for the record books for the Washington professional basketball franchise, which has now lost seven straight home games when facing elimination. But while the Wizards’ postseason misfortunes continue, so does the most successful Hawks season in decades. The Eastern Conference Finals tip off in Atlanta on Wednesday.
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