NBA: As John Wall and Bradley Beal emerge as superstars, Paul Pierce offers guiding hand for surging Wizards

'You can't take Washington lightly' said Paul Pierce as the Wizards offered a strong statement with their ruthless sweep of the Toronto Raptors finished on Sunday night.

Paul Pierce, centre, celebrates with Bradley Beal, left, and John Wall, right, during the Washington Wizards' Game 4 win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. Greg Fiume / Getty Images / AFP / April 26, 2015
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At age 37, Paul Pierce is having a grand ol’ time on this play-off run with the Washington Wizards.

So before turning his attention to whomever his team’s second-round Eastern Conference opponents will be in a week or more – either No 1 seeded Atlanta Hawks or No 8 Brooklyn Nets – Pierce wanted to relish Washington’s sweep of the Toronto Raptors.

So within a couple of hours after the Wizards completed the franchise’s first 4-0 win in a best-of-7 series by beating Toronto 125-94 on Sunday night, Pierce’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were in full troll mode, replete with doctored photos.

One showed an image of Pierce sitting on the iconic “Game of Thrones” iron-sword seat, under the headline “King in the North,” a play off the Raptors’ “We the North” slogan. Another depicted Drake, the Canadian rapper who is the Raptors’ “Global Brand Ambassador,” ripping open a shirt to reveal Pierce’s No 34 Wizards jersey, alongside the line, “If you’re reading this the Wizards just swept,” and accompanied by these words: “Drake a fool lol.”

Aside from Pierce’s contributions on the court – such as 14 points and four of Washington’s club post-season record 15 three-pointers on Sunday – he is putting in work off it, mentoring younger teammates such as John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. Not to mention doing what he can to get into foes’ heads.

“Play-offs is a different game. The intensity goes up, more is on the line, and that’s where you see the stars become superstars,” Pierce said. “And that’s what you saw in this series tonight from John and Bradley.”

Pierce has been through it all, playing in 152 career play-off games and winning an NBA championship ring with the 2008 Boston Celtics.

He was signed last off-season when the Wizards lost Trevor Ariza to free agency, and after having a lighter workload during the regular season, Pierce has given the Wizards the sort of clutch three-point shooting and leadership they needed.

A year ago, Wall and Beal made their post-season debuts, eliminating the Chicago Bulls in the first round before losing to the Indiana Pacers in the second.

“The biggest thing now, I don’t want that feeling again. I don’t want to have that same feeling of going home, knowing that we should be advancing,” Beal, a third-year shooting guard, said after scoring a game-high 23 points Sunday.

He also was not shy about acknowledging the Wizards’ aspirations.

“Winning this series really gives us confidence, but at the same time, we need to stay humble, because it’s not over,” Beal said. “We have another tough series up next. And then another one after that, if we advance. And another one. So it never stops.”

Heady talk for someone who plays on a team that went more than three decades without topping 45 wins, until getting 46 this season.

And by eliminating No 4 seed Toronto, No 5 Washington have made it to the conference semi-finals in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978 and 1979, when – still known as the Bullets – the team won a title, then reached the NBA Finals.

Atlanta lead Brooklyn 2-1, with Game 4 of that series Monday.

Now comes some time off for the Wizards, a chance for Pierce to get a breather, for Wall to let his dinged-up right shoulder to heal, for Beal to do the same with his banged-up knee.

“It’s great to get this out of the way and get a rest while the other guys are playing,” said Wall, who averaged 17.3 points and 12.3 assists against Toronto.

Going into the first round, Pierce drew attention for his remarks about the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor.

He’s pretty sure others’ perception of the Wizards is changing.

“To go out there and not only be the underdog, but to sweep them,” Pierce said, “I think it does send a message that you can’t take Washington lightly.”

*Associated Press

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