Pierce can't deliver this time, as Teague leads attacking Hawks to Game 4 win

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Paul Pierce gave the Washington Wizards a 2-1 lead over the Atlanta Hawks by hitting a tightly contested buzzer-beating bank-shot on Saturday. I guess he had too much time and space on Monday night to keep the Hawks from getting even.

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With 9.5 seconds left on the clock and the Wizards trailing 104-101, the future Hall of Famer took an inbounds pass from Otto Porter, turned around and saw absolutely nothing but fresh air and opportunity in front of him, thanks to a mauling screen from Brazilian big man Nene. He rose and fired, ready to pitch yet another dagger in this magical postscript postseason ... only this time, he found the iron unkind, hitting the heel of the rim and coming up empty from 25 feet out.

The Hawks took possession and called timeout, advancing the ball into the frontcourt with just over three seconds remaining. They just needed to safely inbound the ball, ideally to 90-percent free-throw shooter Kyle Korver, to salt away a much-needed road win.

Korver, who'd had trouble handling low passes on a couple of occasions earlier in the game, once again struggled to make a clean catch:

The officials didn't call Korver's slip-slide away a travel, however, and he was able to redirect the ball to Paul Millsap, whom the Wiz fouled with less than one second left on the clock. He made his pair to seal a 106-101 Hawks win that levels the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals at two games apiece, restoring Atlanta's home-court advantage as the action returns to Philips Arena for Wednesday's Game 5.

After shooting just 29.3 percent from the field through the first three games of this series, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague finally got off the schneid, leading the way with a career-playoff-high 26 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with eight assists, four rebounds, two steals, a block and just one turnover in 32 1/2 minutes of work in the win.

The All-Star looked to attack the basket early and often, taking 14 shots inside the paint and creating open seams for cuts and lobs with his dribble penetration. Backup point guard Dennis Schröder followed suit, picking up where he left off in his strong Game 3 by chipping in 14 points, eight assists and four rebounds in 29 minutes off the Atlanta bench, making sharp cuts and sharper passes as the Hawks repeatedly worked their way to the basket against a Wizards defense that seemed a step slow for most of the evening.

"We could drive the ball against this team — we just have to," Teague told TNT's David Aldridge after the game, noting that Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer emphasized aggressive takes to the basket during a film session after the ball-movement-loving Hawks got somewhat tentative in their approach in Game 3. "[...] We just got to be aggressive. When we're aggressive, we're a lot better, getting in the lane, getting easy shots for other people."

Teague also made two of his four long-distance tries, including a monster step-back triple that stemmed a Wizards run and put Atlanta back up by seven with 1:12 remaining:

"It was a must-win for us, and we took care of business," Teague said after the game.

In doing so, the Hawks more closely resembled the team that won 60 games and rolled to the No. 1 seed in the East than they have at multiple points in these playoffs, especially during a Game 3 that saw their starters blown off the map while their backups made the crazy late-game push that necessitated Pierce's crushing carom.

As they did in Atlanta's Game 2 win, the Hawks' All-Star frontline delivered. Millsap, limited by flu-like symptoms to a reserve role in Game 3, looked mighty healthy on Monday, scoring 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting with six assists, five rebounds and two steals. He provided bursts of playmaking on both ends — including one sequence that saw him create eight Hawks points in a row, highlighted by a too-smooth-for-a-big-man crossover on Nene with a reverse and-one finish and a no-look fast-break feed to DeMarre Carroll — before foul trouble limited him to just 9 1/2 second-half minutes.

After struggling with his jumper through the first three games of the second round, center Al Horford confidently stepped into the midrange looks the Wiz gave him off pick-and-pop action. The bellwether big man shot 6-for-13 from outside the paint en route to 18 points while adding 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a pair of blocks, including this excellent rotation from the weak side to snuff out a Bradley Beal layup just before halftime:

The Hawks looked to force Washington's hand and create mistakes, snagging eight steals and scoring 19 points off 17 Wizards turnovers. Even with Korver (six points on just four field-goal attempts) and DeMarre Carroll (five points on 2-for-8 shooting) making limited offensive contributions, the Hawks spent most of the game generating the sort of looks they thrived on during the regular season, routinely creating chances at the tin or open looks on the perimeter. This time, they made 'em, shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from 3 as a team, with 30 assists on 41 made field goals.

And it still nearly wasn't enough, as the Hawks had to fend off a Washington team that once again put up a hellacious fight without All-Star point guard John Wall, who missed his third straight game after sustaining five non-displaced fractures in his left hand and wrist during a Game 1 fall.

The playoff-rebooted Wiz just kept plugging away, relying on veteran backups Ramon Sessions and Will Bynum to make up for Wall's absence; they combined for 23 points on 21 shots, with Sessions adding five dimes and four boards, and Bynum acting as a game-changing rim-attacking presence in his 14 minutes off the pine. They just kept bombing away, shooting 12-for-26 from 3-point range, making Atlanta wonder when exactly that regression to the mean plans to show up in this series. And they just kept handing the ball to Beal, the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft, and expecting him to lead with Wall in a suit on the sidelines.

The 21-year-old came through with perhaps the best game of his three-year NBA career, stepping in for the injured Wall and producing 51 of the Wizards' 101 points — 34 of his own on 11-for-25 shooting from the field, 4-for-8 from 3-point land and 8-for-9 from the foul line, plus another 17 on his seven assists. He also added six rebounds, three steals and a block in a game-high 44 minutes, 19 seconds of floor time, most of which he spent harassing Korver all over the floor so that he couldn't manage more than four field-goal attempts.

Beal scored 13 in the final frame as the Wizards clawed back from a 10-point deficit after three quarters, curling to the rim for a barely contested layup on a very nice late-game after-timeout play drawn up by Wiz head coach Randy Wittman to cut the Hawks lead to five after Teague's 3-pointer. And after a Nene dunk off a feed by Pierce on another dynamite Wittman ATO got Washington within three with 36 seconds left, Beal — who came up hobbling after contesting a Schröder shot and getting landed on by Nene — made a tremendous stop, blocking another driving attempt by Schröder to scuttle Atlanta's possession and give the Wiz a chance to knot it up.

A third straight well-planned inbounds play — and a third straight poor defensive effort by the Hawks, who didn't switch Nene's (admittedly mugging and moving) screen on Carroll — sprung "The Truth," who'd opened the game 5-for-5 from 3 and had scored 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting to that point. This time, though, the ball didn't bounce Pierce's way; as a result, the Wizards now have their first home loss of this postseason, the Hawks once again have home-court advantage, and we now have a three-game sprint for a berth in the Eastern Conference finals.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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