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The step back that saved Washington

WASHINGTON - In the aftermath, Paul Pierce lied recumbent with his arms raised on the Verizon Center floor as Bradley Beal rained a flurry of mock punches at his chest. Everyone from diminutive newcomer Will Bynum to injured franchise player John Wall came over to celebrate what had just happened: Paul Pierce had prevented a potentially devastating Wizards collapse by delivering a dagger step back bank jumper that gave the Wizards the win and a 2-1 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks.

Pierce was guarded by Kyle Korver as the play began. DeMarre Carroll, who might ordinarily have guarded Pierce, took himself out of the game for the final play.

It exactly the situation wanted going into the final play. He said afterwards "We wanted to get the ball in Paul's hands and we set it with Will [Bynum] with the screen and hopefully get a smaller guy on him which they did." Wittman said after the game. "We wanted to make sure we got the last shot, even if it didn't go in."

Bradley Beal got the inbounds pass and looked to find Pierce coming off the Bynum screen. Pierce perched himself at the top of the key waiting for the ball.

As Pierce saw it, "I caught the ball at the elbow, and I saw Schroder on me, and I saw Beal, and he was at the top of the key with his man kind of helping, so I was just yelling at him to get out, give me some room so I can go left or right. But with the clock going down, I thought all I had was the left and I was able to get the space."

Schroder acquitted himself well, guarding Pierce as close as he could given the size disparity as the seconds on the clock went down. But what came next was as predictable as it was unstoppable. Pierce went left, stepped back to create separation and put up a shot that just beat Kent Bazemore's outstretched arms and the buzzer to bank in the basket and give the Wizards the victory. The Verizon Center exploded, and the Wizards team rushed to congratulate Pierce on the court.

The Hawks walked off, dejected, surely knowing that they missed the chance to steal a game they had trailed by 21 points with less than 10 minutes left.

"It was a lucky shot and we lost the game." Dennis Schroeder would say after the game explaining, "I mean it was two of us contesting a shot, and I think that is a tough shot. I do not think he would make it every time."

Kyle Korver voiced similar sentiments, albeit in a little more delicately phrased way the Shroder: "They set a good screen and we couldn't switch out, and Pierce made a fading bank shot. I give him credit but that was a hard one to take."

In isolation, that may be the case. The Hawks did a fair job of making Pierce's job difficult on the play and not giving him space to get a open shot off. On the other hand, this is what Pierce does and has done throughout his storied 17 year in the NBA. Never an elite or explosive athlete even in his prime, Pierce has thrived in getting shots off without the benefit of great elevation or separation.

As he told the Bleacher Report 2 years ago, it's a shot he's comfortable with taking in any situation:

"It's my game-winner—the in-and-out step-back going right for the win... I can get that any time I want."

Otto Porter said, "We knew it was coming," when asked about the shot after the game. He would know, after all, considering he's spent all season trying to stop Pierce from getting that shot in practice. When asked if he thought the bank was intended, Porter shot back, "You think that was luck?"

"These are the moments you have a guy like him," Randy Wittman remarked on Pierce's shot. While the Wizards certainly value Pierce's role a leader and a mentor to younger players, these playoffs have shown where the biggest part of Pierce's values comes from: his ability to take and make big shots in the biggest moments.

Pierce, when told of Schroder's "lucky shot" remark was happy to have a little fun with it.

"I guess Schroder's going to say that, he's a little young...He hasn't been able to see over the past 17 years. He probably missed with me playing in 2K."

It's the kind of thing NBA fans have been from Pierce more than a few times. As he said two years ago of his "game winner" move: "They've definitely seen that in Madison Square Garden, they've seen it in the Staples Center, they've seen it in Chicago."

And once again, they've seen it at the Verizon Center. It wasn't the first time, and it may not be the last.