Wizards poised to deliver knockout punch against Raptors

Jonathan Newton/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Paul Pierce’s mantra since Game 2 is now the battle cry for the Washington Wizards going into Sunday’s elimination game.

“Our focus right now is to not go back through customs,” Pierce said.

Pierce knows what it's like to have to play a do-or-die game before a fired-up Canadian crowd, after needing a game-clinching block to pull out Game 7 in Toronto last season for Brooklyn.

The last thing he and the Wizards want is to suffer a letdown on Sunday in Game 4 and let the Raptors off the hook. That would mean listening to a Toronto crowd sing the Canadian national anthem all over again.

“They say a close-out game is always the hardest,” Wizards point guard John Wall said. “[But] we feel we can play better than we did yesterday.”

Washington goes for the knockout punch at home with plenty of confidence, in part due to having certified Toronto-vanquisher Pierce on its side.

Pierce is looking to send the Raptors into an early summer for the second straight season. He pushed them to the brink of extinction this postseason by scoring 11 of his 18 points in the final 6:39 of a 106-99 Game 3 win. He was perfect in the fourth, burying three 3-point attempts and making two free throws to get the better of the Raptors yet again.

Like he did in the first round against the Raptors for Brooklyn last postseason, Pierce has shined playing stretches at power forward.

“We were saving it for the playoffs,” Pierce said. “We didn’t want nobody to early scout that. It was our secret weapon.”

With Pierce or Drew Gooden primarily playing the stretch 4, the Wizards are able to give Wall all kinds of options.

“The court is more spread, gives more opportunities for Marcin [Gortat] and Nene and those guys playing the center position to set good screens and roll to the basket,” Wall said. “And if guys don’t help, they are finishing at the rim. And if they do, you’re leaving 3-point shooters open, and guys have been knocking down shots with confidence.”

With Bradley Beal, Pierce and Otto Porter Jr. knocking down treys, the Raptors have had no answers.

Pierce knows the Wizards will have to work harder to finish off the Raptors, especially if they are able to build a lead –- something they have had trouble in the past holding on to late in games.

“We just got to run through the finish line,” Pierce said of the Wizards extending big leads instead of losing them. “Sometimes we get a big lead, and it is like the tortoise and the hare. The hare just messing around, chilling on the side.

“We got to run through the finish line, simple and plain. We can’t turn around and look back at the lead. We got to keep going through and running through the finish line.”

If Washington does that in Game 4, Pierce will get his wish, able to put his passport away.