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Wizards switch sends Raptors to brink of elimination

Pierce, Porter spark lineup change as Washington takes 3-0 lead

POSTED: Apr 25, 2015 1:36 AM ET
UPDATED: Apr 26, 2015 11:17 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Pierce's Clutch Triple

John Wall kicks it out to Paul Pierce who knocks down the clutch 3-pointer

— These are not your regular season's Washington Wizards.

That Wizards team played two big men together almost exclusively. It ranked 19th in offensive efficiency scoring less than 102 points per 100 possessions, and took 35 percent of its shots (the second highest rate in the league) from mid-range, the area between the paint and the 3-point line that produces the most inefficient shots.

That Wizards team went 15-21 over its last 36 games. It won only one road game against a team with a winning record over the last three months of the season. And it got swept, 3-0, in the season series against the Toronto Raptors.

Then the regular season turned into the playoffs and a different Wizards team emerged. This one plays a small lineup, with Paul Pierce at power forward, liberally. This one has scored 116 points per 100 possessions over the last two games, and it took just 12 of its 76 shots from mid-range in Game 3 of the first round on Friday.

This Wizards team took two games in Toronto and is up 3-0 on the Raptors after a 106-99 victory back at home, with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday.

Game 3 of this series followed a similar script as Games 1 and 2. The Raptors had a lead midway through the second quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman unleashed his secret weapon, a lineup that features Pierce and Otto Porter at the forward spots.

Pierce is the 37-year-old, grizzled vet who's been here before. Friday was career playoff game No. 151.

"That's why we brought him here," Wittman said, "for these kind of situations."

Porter is the 21-year-old, former No. 3 pick who played a grand total of 319 minutes as a rookie last season and who was again out of the rotation just a month ago. On March 27 against Charlotte, he was a DNP, coach's decision. Friday was career playoff game No. 6.

"He's just growing up, right before your eyes," Pierce said of Porter. "What better way to come out like this than in the spotlight of the playoffs."

One of the reasons Porter got some minutes in early April was to keep Pierce fresh for the playoffs. After March 3, the pair never played more than seven minutes together in a game.

But apparently, Wittman was playing possum.

"We finally tweaked some things we've been saying we want to do all year," Pierce said. "It makes us more versatile as a team, moving me to the four, giving John more space to get to the lane, opening up things for our scorers and our shooters."

For the third straight game, the Wizards took the lead when Wittman went to the small lineup in the second quarter. This time, it was needed again in the fourth.

With the Wizards holding a one-point lead with less than seven minutes to go, Pierce replaced Drew Gooden, joining Wall, Bradley Beal, Porter and Marcin Gortat.

The Wizards proceeded to score 25 points on their final 15 possessions of the game, with Pierce and Porter combining to shoot 5-for-5 from 3-point range. One dagger after another, three from the vet and two from the kid.

This is the way the league has been going for the last several years. Run pick-and-rolls, spread the floor and let the defense pick its poison. If you try to stop the ball, the big will have space to roll to the basket. If you help on him, a shooter will be open.

Wall and Gortat have run more pick-and-rolls than any other pair of teammates in the league over the last two seasons, but they never had the right complementary trio around them. Now, they do. And even when he had fewer options, Wall has been among the best in the league at finding shooters beyond the arc.

The Wizards picked a great time to finally catch up to the rest of the league.

"It spreads the court for us," Wall said. "It gives me the opportunity to attack in pick-and-rolls and gives me three shooters out there. Those guys don't know where to help from.

Pierce and Porter played just 156 minutes together in the regular season. Through three games in the playoffs, they've played 44 minutes together, and the Wizards have outscored the Raptors by 25 points in those 44 minutes.

For the entire series, the Wizards have outscored the Raptors by ...

wait for it ...

25 points.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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