As the game slows down in the postseason, Paul Pierce’s game becomes even more prolific. It showed Saturday, as he led the Washington Wizards to a Game 1 win over the Toronto Raptors in overtime, 93-86. “The Truth” led all scorers with 20 points and provided a veteran presence for the young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Just like last postseason against the Raptors as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Pierce thrived in a role as a stretch 4 in Game 1 on Saturday. Pierce’s 20 points marked his highest scoring output since a Feb. 24 loss against the Golden State Warriors when he scored 25 points. Pierce said after the game that he was well rested, and that helped him provide such a big boost.
The quartet of Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat provide enough defense and versatility on offense to allow Pierce to effectively space the floor at the 4. The 37-year old still moves well enough to guard rangier 4’s, and Pierce has the strength to handle some bigger forwards as well.
Most importantly, Pierce has the defensive aptitude to know what to do and where to be on the court, and in the playoffs, that’s what makes his presence so valuable. Tyler Hansbrough isn’t much of a mismatch for Pierce defensively, either.
What Pierce showed in Game 1 was the reason why Washington wanted to bring him on board this summer; to provide leadership and versatility for the team in the postseason. Pierce was brought in to help this team take the next step, and the best chance the Wizards have this postseason is to play him as a stretch 4. However, his success on Saturday makes you wonder why Washington rarely used Pierce as a power forward in the regular season.
The Brooklyn Nets’ second most-used lineup last season (for nearly 130 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com) featured Pierce playing power forward next to Kevin Garnett. Randy Wittman’s 20th most-used lineup is the first with Pierce as a stretch 4, logging just over 37 minutes throughout the season alongside Gortat in the frontcourt. It might have been more valuable to tinker with smaller lineups in the regular season to prepare for matchups like versatile power forward Patrick Patterson, who finished with 10 points.
That lineup with Pierce at the 4 was used with Rasual Butler as an additional swingman, but now Porter has taken that spot in the rotation. Wall is a menace in transition, pushing the pace and attacking the rim like few other point guards can, and the offense steps up another level when Beal plays consistently. Porter acts as a glue-guy who can guard multiple positions and run the floor in transition. Gortat is mobile and plays well off the ball, and he’s solid on the offensive glass and has a soft touch around the rim.
Not only can Pierce be effective at the 4 in this series, but it can also work in a potential series with Atlanta in the next round. Pierce can match up with Paul Millsap out to the three-point line, and he moves his feet well enough to stick with him off the bounce.
Kris Humphries missed over a month before returning April 1, but the big man didn’t make an appearance in Game 1 thanks to the play of Pierce. If the Wizards want to make any noise this postseason, playing Pierce as a stretch 4 is their best option to advance, and it showed on Saturday.