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Pierce has 'it' as Wizards stop Raptors

TORONTO -- Taking the lead from the NBA's most honest man, the reality is probably neither the Washington Wizards nor the Toronto Raptors have "it."

Every playoff series benefits from a little controversy, manufactured or not, and Paul Pierce's use of "it" this week became the most debated two-letter word usage in the nation's capital since Bill Clinton's use of "is."

It's tempting to give Pierce credit for sage gamesmanship, anything taking the focus off the underwhelming Wizards' past three months and forcing the Raptors to waste time having to respond to seemed shrewd.

This was especially true after the Wizards took Game 1 Saturday, 93-86 in overtime in a game that was merely close but far from great, and Pierce played his best game in months. It theoretically backed up his vague pronoun that launched a hundred thousand social media posts north of the border.

Yet the interview happened before this matchup was set, so it wasn't so much Pierce trying to play mind games as it was him simply telling it like it is. It was mildly insulting but also pretty accurate. The Raptors don't have anything that inspires true worry, much less fear, in an opponent. And the same could be said for Game 1's victors.

Unfortunately the quasi-trash talk is the best thing going with this series thus far. Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri played his role Saturday. He reprised his "F--- Brooklyn" declaration from a year ago to the assembled masses outside Air Canada Centre before tipoff, this time with an "I don't give a s--- about it" crowd pleaser.

This as Raptors and Maple Leafs CEO Tim Leiweke was showing off the young, happy and diverse crowd to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, making it known the police haven't yet needed to make an arrest with the jovial yet polite throng. It seems it was only Ujiri who was guilty of what passes for civil disobedience in Toronto.

Ujiri joked before the series started that he couldn't afford to curse in public again having been fined $25,000 last year by the league for dropping the f-bomb. This of course isn't just untrue -- Ujiri is one of the highest-paid GMs in the league at $3 million per year -- his cursing has probably made him money and certainly helped his cred. It helped make Ujiri so popular he got a Blackberry endorsement deal and appears in commercials where the video from the moment is played.

"Typical Ujiri," Pierce said after the game, mispronouncing it as "Yuri," either because Pierce cares so little about him that he hasn't learned how to correctly say Ujiri's name or because he was launching a new round of faux mind games.

After that, it was all downhill. Nothing that happened in Saturday's Game 1 inspired any great feeling in either team. Someone is going to win this series, but there isn't anything that looks like a contender here right now. There are jobs and future contracts on the line, it's serious business, but it isn't promising serious basketball.

It would be nice for everyone if that ended up not being the case. It would be wonderful for the Eastern Conference and pivotal for both teams' futures if someone emerged as a hero over these next two weeks, gave all sides something to grow on. You know, someone showing some of that "it."

The only guy with "it" in Game 1, though, was Pierce. He played probably his best game in a couple of months in scoring 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. It was the most points he has scored since late February and showed that the rest he's been getting recently helped his ailing knee.

Pierce's 3-pointer in the first possession of overtime didn't seem like it should've been a backbreaker but apparently it was because the Raptors responded by not scoring a point for the next four and half minutes.

Wall went 5-of-18 shooting and missed a jumper on the Wizards' last possession of regulation when a miscommunication foiled the play call. Bradley Beal was 6-of-23 and miserable defensively at times, falling asleep when guarding Lou Williams and then falling down when guarding Greivis Vasquez in the fourth quarter. Those were two big plays in the Wizards' blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead, which typically would be a big-time no-no for the visiting team. Yet these were details surrounding the winning side.

His general bad game didn't stop Beal from mockingly waving at Raptors star Kyle Lowry when he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Lowry, who is still recovering from a back issue, was miserable, scoring just seven points and committing several mindless fouls.

DeMar DeRozan, who has been on a tear recently, was focused on having a better Game 1 this year after he played the road-kill-in-headlights role in his first playoff game last year. He went up to the team's practice court prior to the game to get some extra work in, trying to focus. It led to a 6-of-20 shooting night.

There were a few calls that went against the Raptors that irked them: a questionable moving screen on Amir Johnson that wiped out a 3-pointer and a lob in the final second of regulation where a foul could've been called on the Wizards' Otto Porter for bumping Terrence Ross that could've changed the outcome.

"I thought those were interesting plays," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "I'll have to look at the film."

Though Casey admitted his team's giving up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points was their downfall. That and DeRozan and Lowry playing poorly.

The Wizards did hold the offensively-talented Raptors to 38 percent shooting. And this team is now 6-1 on the road in the playoffs over the past two seasons. That's a great record no matter the circumstances.

It won't stay this way when it comes to the series stars. Wall and Beal will almost assuredly play better. Lowry is one of the toughest competitors in the league. DeRozan was the conference player of the month in April, maybe he was due for a setback.

If nothing else, the series promises it will be competitive. Unless there's a radical departure from the track these two teams have been on over the past three months, maybe it's the best that can be expected.

That and Pierce continuing to drop truth bombs.

"When you win Game 1 on the road it sets the tone; it takes the pressure off us and puts it on them," Pierce said. "I don't mind playing the role of underdog or villain or whatever."