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Without Wall, Wizards continue playoff reinvention

Washington blows 21-point lead, but bailed out by Pierce

POSTED: May 9, 2015 11:45 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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— It didn't matter that they blew a 21-point lead to what was, essentially, the Atlanta Hawks' third string. It didn't matter that Marcin Gortat made a bad mistake at a bad time, leaving Mike Muscala alone behind the 3-point line for the game-tying basket with 14 seconds left.

And it didn't matter that Paul Pierce didn't call glass on the game-winning buzzer beater.

"I called game," Pierce told ESPN seconds later.

The game, the result, is all that matters. Without their best player, the Wizards outlasted East's No. 1 seed in Game 3 of the conference semifinals with a 103-101 victory on Saturday, taking a 2-1 series lead and holding on to home-court advantage.

We still don't know if John Wall will play again in this series. He probably won't. But at this point, there's clearly no use trying to predict how the Wizards will play, with or without their point guard.

They reinvented themselves in their first round series against the Toronto Raptors, and they've seemingly reinvented themselves again. "Hawks in five" would have been a reasonable prediction after it was learned that Wall had five fractures in his left hand and wrist. But it might be time to ignore reason and just ride the wave.

As a rule, the Wizards' offense falls apart without Wall. In the regular season, it scored less than a point per possession with him on the bench. Same thing in the playoffs ... until Saturday.

The Wizards had scored 94 points on just 73 possessions until blowing that 21-point lead. They moved the ball and they made threes. They executed.

Nene, who shot 0-for-9 in the first two games, beat up the Atlanta bigs in the post. Otto Porter, who was out of the rotation a month and a half ago, continually beat his man to the basket on off-ball cuts. Point guard Will Bynum played his first meaningful minutes of the postseason and kept the offense afloat.

It didn't matter that Wall wasn't there to run the pick-and-roll as well as he had through the Wizards' first five playoff games. It didn't matter that his replacement, Ramon Sessions, shot 2-for-10. The Wizards got it done.

"We depended on John to create a lot of offense for us," Pierce said. "What it's going to take to replace that is a lot of body movement, a lot of ball movement, a lot of cutting, getting the ball from side to side, getting them off balance, which makes a little more, probably, unpredictable, especially when you got five or six guys in double figures."

Unpredictable is a good word to describe this team, this series, and these playoffs. For just the second time in the 40 years since the postseason went to 16 teams, there are six teams in the conference semis that weren't there the year before. The eventual champion will be a team that hasn't want a title in at least 17 years.

In the Wizards' lockers on Saturday were T-shirts that read "Why not us?"

That's now a more difficult question to answer than "Why not the Hawks?" And maybe Game 3 was more about Atlanta than Washington.

Paul Millsap was dealing with flu-like symptoms. He didn't start, played just 23 minutes, and looked sluggish for most of them. The Hawks' normal starting lineup played just 11.5 minutes together and outscored the Wizards by seven points in those minutes.

But Pero Antic, Millsap's replacement in the starting lineup, was a disaster. Jeff Teague wasn't very effective. And while Kyle Korver hit two threes after offensive rebounds in the first quarter, he was barely able to get a shot off in the initial offense.

"I think we weren't really in sync," Korver said. "When I get good shots, it's when we are playing the right way and playing our pace, and that makes everyone dangerous. Tonight, that wasn't the case and we have to fix that."

That will be easier said than done if the Washington defense plays as well as it did on Saturday. The Wizards' wings stayed attached to Korver, their bigs kept Teague contained on the pick-and-roll, and their weak-side rotations were sharp.

There's one part of their identity that the Wizards have stayed true to. They're an excellent defensive team.

Everything else defies reason.

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

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