There are plenty of reasons why the Washington Wizards swept the Toronto Raptors out of the 2015 postseason. Some of them have to do with the Raptors' own failings, especially on the defensive end, as they plummeted from the top of the East to a dispiriting four-game defeat and into a summer that could feature franchise-shaking change. Some of them have to do with John Wall being damn near unguardable, Bradley Beal getting back to making shots he'd struggled to at times this season and Otto Porter becoming a nightmarish defender for Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to deal with.
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But it's undeniable that some of them also have to do with the play of Paul Pierce, who began the postseason by questioning whether the Raptors had "it," burrowing deep under the skin of Toronto's players and general manager. The former Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets star then proceeded to back up every single syllable of his smack talk, popping for 20 points as Washington stole home-court advantage away from the Raps in Game 1, hitting the dagger 3-pointer that buried Toronto in Game 3, and hitting four of the Wizards' franchise-playoff-record 15 3-pointers in Sunday's closeout win.
The pre-series chat between Pierce and Randy Wittman that resulted in the much-maligned head coach slotting Pierce in as a small-ball power forward alongside one of Washington's bigs — either Marcin Gortat or Nene — next to Otto Porter at small forward and the Wall-Beal backcourt proved to be a series-tilter, as those units outscored Toronto by 28 points in 40 total minutes in the four-game sweep, producing massive and in some cases game-deciding runs that helped send Toronto packing and propel the Wiz to their second straight second-round berth.
At 37 years of age, after 17 NBA seasons and more than 50,000 combined regular- and postseason minutes, Pierce has every right to celebrate the fact that he's still able to impact a playoff series both between the lines and between the ears of his opponents. And boy, oh boy, has "The Truth" had some fun with the Raps and their fans.
First, after Game 1, he posted a screencap of a Toronto Sun Photoshop depicting him as the wizened Gandalf from "The Lord of the Rings" on his Instagram account with the simple caption, "Lol." Next, after his 18-point performance in Game 3, he got philosophical on Twitter:
After Washington sealed the sweep, Pierce put the finishing touches on his trolling coup de grace, needling Raptors ambassador Drake with the sort of panache that Wale just can't quite muster:
But "The Truth" saved the best of his post-victory taunting for Facebook, where he chose to celebrate our collective love of pay-cable prestige drama by having himself Photoshopped into the Iron Throne:
It is amazingly ridiculous that Pierce has so wholeheartedly embraced disseminating Internet memes that kick a vanquished opponent when they're down. But it's also pretty perfectly in keeping with his age-old status as one of the league's premier bad guys, a comfortable-in-his-own-skin villain who thrives on making opposing fan bases miserable and reveling in the misery he creates. He's a straight-from-central-casting wrestling heel who wears the black hat better than most, and who has now — through the magic of Photoshop and social media — found a way to ensure that his sneers and barbs remain relevant for a whole new generation of fans.
It's ingenious, really, and it's just another manifestation of something so many opponents have come to learn over the years — you don't realize how much you miss not having a Paul Pierce until you have to deal with one. From CBSSports.com's James Herbert, reporting from the Raptors' Monday locker-clean-out post-mortem:
Greivis Vasquez: "Basically, we need a Paul Pierce that's gonna talk that trash. We don't have that."
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 27, 2015
"You need to have that spiciness," Vasquez added. "You need to be a little bit of an a**hole like he is."
You need to be able to back it up, too. Once you've got that, you're well on your way to self-congratulatory HBO-themed memes and making fun of Drake, which is where all of us want to be, really.
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