Confident Wizards serve notice to East with sweep

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WASHINGTON -- The celebration in D.C. began in the middle of the third quarter when Paul Pierce drove his final 3-point dagger into Toronto and held his shooting hand high in the air as if to let everybody pay homage to the hand that rocked the Raptors.

Pierce's third 3-pointer of the quarter came in the middle of a barrage where Washington drilled seven of eight treys to put Toronto out of its misery. Washington completed a stunning four-game sweep of the Raptors in decisive fashion with a 125-94 rout at a sold-out Verizon Center.

Washington notched its first 4-0 sweep in franchise history by knocking down a team-record 15 3-point bombs. The Wizards made nine of their first 11 shots from the field and never looked back, eventually building a lead as big as 37.

In what was expected to be one of the more competitive series in the Eastern Conference, Washington finished off the Raptors with a laugher that saw bored home fans turn to "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants to mock Toronto.

By crushing the fourth-seeded Raptors, the Wizards served noticed to the rest of the conference that they are serious about trying to surpass last season's second-round showing. Washington will have some much-needed rest as it awaits the winner of the Atlanta-Brooklyn series.

"To go out there and not only be the underdog but to sweep them, I think it does send a message that you can't take Washington lightly," Pierce said after scoring 14 points in 22 minutes. "[The Hawks or Nets] are going to see a different ballclub than they saw in the regular season."

While the Raptors may have showed a complete indifference toward playing defense in this series, Washington heads into the second round much more confident and mature than it did last year against Indiana.

What's different? John Wall and Bradley Beal now know what to expect on this stage in the postseason, and they're playing with extreme confidence.

On Sunday night, Wall controlled the game despite taking only five shots. He had 14 points and 10 assists, slicing and dicing the Toronto defense with pinpoint passes while dictating tempo and getting to the line seven times with his aggressive play. Wall averaged 17.3 points, 12.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds for the series.

Beal scored 23 points and continued his aggressive play by getting to the line 11 times. The soft-spoken shooter played with an edge throughout this series and did not revert to the passive-aggressive Beal who can often be a frustration considering how talented he is. He averaged 20.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists. And he took 18.7 shots a game, something the Wizards want to keep seeing.

Marcin Gortat kept hurting Toronto with his timely rolls to the basket and putbacks for 21 points and 11 rebounds. Second-year forward Otto Porter continued his breakout postseason with seven points and seven rebounds and was serenaded by the fans with an "Ot-to Por-ter" chant.

The maestro, though, of this Washington playoff surge is Pierce. He started the series by getting into Toronto's head with his "It" comment. He finished it as the undisputed "King in the North" as it says on the picture of him sitting on the famous throne from "Game of Thrones" that he posted on his Facebook page not long after the game was over.

Excelling as a stretch-4, Pierce may have set the Raptors' franchise back, beating them two straight postseasons and perhaps forcing Toronto into some tough decisions this summer.

But in Washington, he's been the leader the Wizards have needed. He's been a Yoda-like mentor to the young core while turning the clock back and hitting clutch playoff shots once again. The crafty vet has provided the Wizards what Toronto sorely lacks -- priceless leadership and fearless playmaking. His ability to play power forward has allowed Washington to spread the floor with shooters for Wall. And the result is a more confident Wizards team heading into the second round again.

"Coming into the first round, I saw [us not] looking [with] your eyes wide-open, trying to say what am I going to expect to see with a lot of guys that have never played [in the playoffs] last year," Washington head coach Randy Wittman said. "But I saw a much more confident group heading into the first round ... I never saw that look of not knowing what might come next.

"And adding Paul helps in that situation. So I see just a more confident look in their face right now."

While a good number of people picked the Raptors to win this series with home-court advantage, Washington might not be as big an underdog in the next round if top-seeded Atlanta wins. And if it's eighth-seeded Brooklyn, Washington would not only be the favorite, but it would set up an interesting reunion between Pierce and the Nets. The Truth could play spin doctor again and try to get into the heads of his old Nets teammates, especially Deron Williams, who already has been the subject of Pierce's comments: Pierce said the Nets' point guard doesn't react to pressure very well.

Pierce has a younger and more talented backcourt this year than he did in Brooklyn. He needs Wall and Beal as much as they need him.

Together, the trio looks confident and fearless so far. That might be all the Wizards need to get to the Eastern Conference finals.

"Playoffs is a different game," Pierce said. "The intensity goes up. More is on the line. That's where you see the stars become superstars, and that's what you saw in this series and tonight from John and Bradley Beal."