This is precisely the version of The Truth that the Washington Wizards were hoping to get when they signed Paul Pierce to a two-year deal last summer. The 2008 Finals MVP was not only brought in to offset some of what was lost when Trevor Ariza decided to sign with the Houston Rockets, but his experience is exactly what this young core of players seemed to lack during what was a somewhat surprising, yet impressive postseason run last season.
Opposing players may not have liked some of the bravado and pre-series talk from Pierce, but his teammates have certainly appreciated Pierce’s ability to rise to the occasion and back those words up with timely scoring and big plays all around the court. Even though the Toronto Raptors held home court advantage heading into the series, the Wizards now hold what is likely an insurmountable 0-3 lead as the teams prepare for Game 4.
“That’s why we brought [Pierce] here,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman told media members following Game 3. “[Pierce is] not scared of the moment. He’s proved he can [still] play.”
Beyond the 20 points that really fueled their Game 1 victory in Toronto and the 11 huge fourth quarter points that helped the Wizards seal the deal in Game 3, Pierce has also gone out of his way to help instill confidence and a reinforced sense of professionalism within the locker room.
“Top to bottom, [John Wall’s] the best point guard,” Pierce stated prior to Game 3. “You talk about Stephen Curry, the amazing things he’s done, the three-point shooting, but I just look at the overall game. You look at the way [Wall] can score, the way he can pass, the way he can defend. Top to bottom, I think he’s the best point guard in the league.”
Whether you agree with his assessment, the important thing is that Wall and the rest of his teammates believe in the mindset and overall confidence Pierce is attempting to cultivate. A 3-0 lead is definitely a great way to start what Washington hopes can end up being a deep playoff run, but Pierce and the other veterans on the team will undoubtedly ignore the fact that none of the previous 110 NBA teams facing such a deficit have ever completed a comeback and remind his teammates the job is far from complete at this stage.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but unless the Raptors complete a comeback no other team has made throughout the history of the NBA, the Wizards would likely have to face the East’s top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the second round. Washington was up and down throughout the regular season and lost three of four vs. Atlanta – the one win coming late in the year and primarily against Atlanta’s second unit – but these Wizards appear to be peaking at the right moment and probably still won’t lack for confidence even though the Hawks pretty much owned the season series this year. For perspective, in case the Brooklyn Nets were to also find a way to complete a comeback in their series vs. Atlanta, the Wizards were able to split the season series and Washington would actually hold home court advantage in that matchup.
Criticism of Kawhi Leonard’s DPOY Award
As you are probably aware of by now, San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard was awarded the 2014-15 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. While there were absolutely great arguments that could have been (and were) made for the merits of players like Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green and Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan among others, the reigning Finals MVP was absolutely deserving of the honor.
Admittedly, the idea that Leonard only played in 64 games this season was more of a concern until a quick look at the history of the award reminded us of the fact that Kevin Garnett (2008) and Marcus Camby (2007) won the very same award having played in only 71 and 70 games, respectively. The bigger problem seems to be with the fact that Leonard is a perimeter player rather than a center or power forward that has traditionally taken the award. In fact, Leonard becomes just the third ‘non-big’ alongside Ron Artest (2004) and Gary Payton (1996) to win the award over the past 25 seasons.
Regardless of where you stand in terms of how many games played is “enough” to be considered for an annual award, Leonard’s overall defensive impact is something that cannot be denied. Leonard plays the passing lanes, rebounds exceptionally well for his position, is smart in pick-and-roll situations and always seems to simply be in the right place to help in support of a teammate. That is far from a coincidence, by the way, as Leonard has been widely described as a player that is obsessed with getting better at all aspects of the game.
He’s versatile enough to make the league’s top scoring small forwards and guards work for every single point and agile enough to stay in front of the quicker point guards (as we saw in Game 2 and 3 of this opening series) opposing teams throw at the Spurs. Also, far from a coincidence, but it was reported the Spurs intend to offer Leonard a max contract the moment the free agency period begins this July. That won’t likely stop the speculation of the possibility of someone else stealing him away this summer – especially as writers and bloggers worldwide scramble for material once the Finals and Draft are complete – but Leonard isn’t likely to be leaving the Spurs anytime soon.
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