Paul Pierce's ability to close fills major void for Wizards

Paul Pierce's ability to close fills major void for Wizards
July 13, 2014, 2:45 pm
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LAS VEGAS -- In winning 44 regular-season games, the Wizards know they could've done better if they'd closed with more authority. That's where Paul Pierce, even at 36, comes in. 

The Wizards were 4-8 in overtime games, and a chunk of those defeats came vs. inferior teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics. And who can forget John Wall missing a layup at the buzzer in a 106-105 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 10? What about the 75-74 loss to the Denver Nuggets when they had to rely on Chris Singleton to take the last shot in regulation on Dec. 9? 

Pierce excels in this area and forces defenses to not key in on Bradley Beal, who is the primary option in these situations for Washington. Beal helped sparked a comeback from a 14-point deficit in the second half of Game 6 of the East semifinals vs. the Indiana Pacers. His three-pointer gave the Wizards the lead briefly at 74-73 with 8:31 left in the game. Unfortunately for Beal, he admitted that his legs gave out and he went 0-for-4  after that. Remember when Wall hesitated and passed on a wide-open three-pointer in Game 4 vs. the Pacers late in the fourth quarter after blowing a double-digit lead, a pivotal game the Wizards would lose? With Pierce that won't happen. 

Very easily, the Wizards could've reached Marcin Gortat's early-season prediction of 50 wins. Pierce only played 28 minutes per game, the lowest of his career with the Brooklyn Nets last season, but he was efficient. He averaged 13.5 points on 45.1% shooting. He made 37.3% from three-point range, slightly less than Trevor Ariza's 40.7% from deep. 

According to NBA.com advanced statistics, Pierce trailed only Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard in three-pointers in the clutch, the final five minutes of the fourth quarter/overtime when the score was within five points.

When Ariza opted to jump to the Houston Rockets on Saturday, the Wizards were able to lock up Pierce on a two-year deal worth $11 million. Both are different players so this isn't a one-for-one swap.

Ariza is limited with what he can do off the dribble. Pierce isn't. Ariza relied heavily on Wall to set him up (165 of 389 field goals came on Wall's assists). Pierce's step-back mid-range shot is tough to defend, a skill set that Ariza lacked. All the other stuff that Pierce doesn't do well at this stage of his career, the Wizards expect Otto Porter to fill in those gaps. 

The risk here for the Wizards is low. The reward is very high. 

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