Washington, DC (SportsNetwork.com) - The Hawks will play in the conference finals for the first time in 45 years after surviving another nailbiter against the Wizards.
This one literally came down to fingertips.
DeMarre Carroll scored 25 points, including two late layups for the lead, and Atlanta held on to beat the Washington Wizards 94-91 on Friday night, winning their semifinal series 4-2 after referees waived off Paul Pierce's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Pierce's off-balance shot, which swished through the net from the left corner, would have sent Game 6 to overtime. But replays showed the ball was still on his fingers when time expired.
"I almost had a heart attack," said Hawks point guard Jeff Teague. "He just doesn't give up."
Pierce, of course, won Game 3 last Saturday with a jump shot that he banked in at the buzzer. He nearly won Game 5 on Wednesday with a 3, but Atlanta ended up pulling it out on Al Horford's putback in the last seconds.
The veteran Wizards forward drew snickers following Game 5 for reportedly turning to the Hawks bench after making his 3 and declaring, "Series."
Series? Yep. For the top-seeded Hawks, who won three in a row and will now take on LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers starting Wednesday night in Atlanta.
It will be the franchise's first appearance in the round before the NBA Finals since 1970, when it only took one series win to get there.
"We made just enough plays down the stretch," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. "I think it was just a great team effort. It was a heck of a series. We're ready to move on and prepare for the next round."
Paul Millsap had 20 points and 13 rebounds and Teague chipped in 20 points and seven assists, including two on back-to-back Carroll layups that gave Atlanta the lead for good.
The Hawks won despite Kyle Korver going 0-for-7 on 3-pointers and key bench player Dennis Schroder finishing just 3-for-12 from the field. Horford had 13 points and Carroll finished with 10 rebounds.
The Hawks, who beat Brooklyn in the first round, had not won two playoff series since 1958, when they were based in St. Louis and won the NBA title.
They are making their eighth consecutive postseason appearance.
"I think for our organization, it's something to be proud of," Budenholzer said. "There was a lot of work put in all year. ... But we're more in the moment and continue to look forward. There's still a lot of work to be done."
Bradley Beal scored 29 to lead the fifth-seeded Wizards and John Wall, playing for the second game in a row with five fractures in his left hand and wrist, added 20 points and 13 assists.
The Hawks led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter and were up 10 in the fourth before the Wizards rallied.
Wall, who missed three games after being hurt in the series opener, used his injured hand to poke the ball from Carroll for a steal, then found Beal with an outlet pass for a fastbreak dunk with 4 1/2 minutes left.
Moments later, Beal's jumper capped a 9-0 run to give the Wizards their first lead since there were four minutes left in the second quarter.
It remained a one-point game in either direction until Teague hit Carroll under the basket for layups on consecutive possessions to give the Hawks a 93-89 lead.
Free throws by Garrett Temple cut it to two points before Horford went 1-of-2 at the other end for a three-point Hawks advantage with 6.4 seconds left.
After a timeout, Wall dribbled on the final play before finding Pierce on the left side. Pierce moved past Horford and Korver to get into the corner and was falling away when he let the shot go.
"Paul did a heck of a job to put us in position to tie it," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. "It was just a little late."
Referees huddled near the Wizards celebration to discuss the play. After they went to the monitor, it did not take long to determine Pierce was still touching the ball when time expired.
"A lot's going through your mind. They called it good, so you're thinking the referees get more right than they get wrong," said Budenholzer. "I was watching his feet and it looked like he was close to going out of bounds. Obviously he didn't get it off."
The Wizards were eliminated on May 15 for the second year in a row. They swept fourth-seeded Toronto in the first round and had a 2-1 series lead on the Hawks after Pierce's shot last Saturday.
Washington has not made the conference finals since 1979.
"We just kept playing," said Wittman, whose team also faced deficits of eight points in the first quarter and six at halftime. "I'm so proud of their heart to keep playing and stay in it. We're going to keep knocking on the door and one day we're going to knock it down."
Kevin Seraphin had 13 points off the bench for the Wizards and was the only other player besides Beal and Wall on the team in double digits ... Atlanta went 3-1 against Cleveland in the regular season, winning the last three games ... Washington was also eliminated in six games by Indiana last season.