Wizards-Raptors, Game 1: Paul Pierce Sucks… The Oxygen Out Of The Air Canada Centre

“Paul Pierce sucks!”

“Paul Pierce sucks!”

A chant thrown at a loathed athlete on the opposing team isn’t automatically or necessarily cruel, but there’s a time and a place for it.

Seasoned fans know when to serenade a villain on the visiting team — when the game is well in hand, when a bad day is a confirmed reality, when the totality of the situation is bleak for the villain’s team… not the home folks.

If there’s one thing sports fans regularly fail to grasp in any postseason, it’s that taunts or attempts at heckling — when made at the beginning of a game or in neutral situations — are often the very nectar a sports villain wants to drink. Toronto fans are graduate students of hockey fandom, but their basketball-rooting skills clearly need some sharpening.

One year after Paul Pierce drove a dagger through the Raptors’ hearts in a first-round series with the Brooklyn Nets, he did the same thing with the Washington Wizards. As was the case in 2014, the Raptors — a mess on offense — lost Game 1 of the playoffs at home in the Air Canada Centre. Pierce punctured Toronto’s balloon and removed the air from the arena. Those chants early in the game turned into a resigned and knowing silence at the end of Saturday’s contest. If the Brooklyn Nets brought Pierce aboard for his playoff experience, the Wizards did so for the same reason.

It was 2014 all over again in Canada, which is what makes the the crowd’s early-game chant so foolish.


Jordan. Kobe. LeBron. Reggie Miller in his prime. Robert Horry against the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in baseball.

Claude Lemieux in hockey.

Antagonistic central figures or lightning-rod role players who are instrumental in leading teams to world championships own a competitive DNA in which injections of outside hatred are not poison. They promote increased excellence and create a surge in one’s appetite for victory. Chants from fans don’t serve as distractions or sources of discouragement. They convey a message quite different from what the crowds think they’re sending.

Fans who taunt or heckle think they’re getting inside the head of a player. In reality, the fans are allowing the villain to get inside their own cranial regions.

Paul Pierce isn’t the first player to relish the attention he gets, to love the fact that 18 or 20 thousand people inside a building care so desperately about what he might have said to the press or done in a past season. Moreover, he’s not going to be the last such example, either. What Pierce is: the foremost present-tense example of an accomplished professional athlete who gulps down taunts like a sorely-needed electrolyte beverage which refuels him at an advanced stage in a Hall of Fame career. It’s the main reason the Wizards have a chance to take full control of this series in Game 2.


Saturday’s game was, to put it mildly, an eyesore. Neither team shot 40 percent from the field. Brad Beal and John Wall combined to hit 11 of 41 shots, 1 of 9 on threes… and their team won. Washington’s coach couldn’t figure out how to hold a clipboard in this game:

… and his team won.

Yep, it was that kind of day.

Kyle Lowry of Toronto was body-snatched, hitting just two field goals and scoring only seven points before mercifully fouling out late in regulation. It’s hard to imagine Toronto being competitive in this game with Lowry being so bad, and actually, with eight minutes left, Washington led by a 74-59 score, leading everyone to think that this game was done and dusted.

A funny thing happened, then: Paul Pierce stopped getting the ball. Beal and Wall, who had not been effective shooting mid-range jumpers all day, kept hoisting. Pierce continued to not get touches. Toronto finally got hot, with DeMar DeRozan, Greivis Vasquez, and Lou Williams hitting baskets in close proximity to each other. The Washington team that slid backwards in the Eastern Conference in the second half of the season re-emerged, and with 25 seconds left, the score was tied at 82. The Wizards had one last chance to win in regulation and clean up the mess they made.

Wall — whose jump shot remains the most deficient part of his game — chucked a 19-footer, which predictably missed.

The Wizards had fallen apart, because they had ignored the player who got them this far… the player who owned complete psychological control over the moment, the building, and the Raptor fans inside it.

Pierce rectified that problem. He hit a three at the start of overtime, a shot which immediately put the crowd in its place… and the Raptors on their heels. Toronto didn’t score a single point in overtime until a garbage/sympathy bucket with 29 seconds left, and by that time, the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Beal finished 6 of 23. Wall finished 5 of 18. The young bucks on the Wizards had no confidence in their jump shots.

Old Man Pierce? 7 of 10 for 20 highly efficient points, leading Washington in scoring.


When a hated political opponent publishes a book, the proper response is not to condemn the book, but to say nothing about it. The political figure wants publicity. Opponents who are smart will not give that publicity.

If a painting or a movie is terrible and you think it offends a sense of decency, allow it to die a death in the media ecosystem… don’t condemn it, because that’s what will often draw the crowds to it.

The same dynamic is true in sports: Want to really get under the skin of a villain? Don’t give him the attention he seeks.

The best response to a hated opponent is to say, “[Insert name of loathed figure here] who?

Toronto basketball fans still don’t understand that. They fueled Paul Pierce.

Their team trails a Pierce-led foe after Game 1 of a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series… again.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |