WASHINGTON - Kyle Korver was the Atlanta Hawks' closest defender as Paul Pierce shimmied to his left and launched a 3-point try, hoping to extend the Washington Wizards' season by forcing overtime in Game 6 of the teams' second-round series.
The shot swished, apparently tying the score at the buzzer. Pierce raised his arms; both teams began thinking about OT. Then, though, the play was reviewed, showing the clock expired before Pierce released the basketball.
"It went in and it's just like, 'You've got to be kidding me. That did NOT just happen,'" Korver said, shaking his head. "I thought he got it off. I was getting ready for overtime. And then ... you're like, 'Heeeeyyyy! All right! We'll take it!'"
Long time coming, too, for Atlanta, which made it to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time. The Hawks edged the Wizards 94-91 on Friday night, thanks in part to a fraction of a second — and DeMarre Carroll's playoff career-high 25 points, including two layups in the last minute off assists from Jeff Teague.
After Al Horford of the Hawks went 1 of 2 from the free throw line for a three-point lead, the Wizards inbounded the ball with 6.4 seconds left. They got the ball to Pierce, who won Game 3 on a banked-in buzzer-beater, then put Washington briefly ahead late in Game 5 with a corner 3.
"I was about to cry," Carroll said. "I said, 'Not again.' ... But the basketball gods were on our side."
Pierce, who indicated afterward he might not come back for an 18th NBA season, said: "A lot of times I deliver, (a) lot of times I didn't. But I'm always willing and ready."
After trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the No. 1 seed Hawks won three straight games. Now Atlanta will host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the conference finals Wednesday.
It's the Hawks' first trip to a conference final since the NBA realigned into conferences in 1970-71. The team had not won two playoff series in a single year since moving to Atlanta for the 1968-69 season.
Teague and Paul Millsap both added 20 points for Atlanta, which won 60 games during the regular season but was about a .500 team for part of the post-season.
"I still feel, and I know our guys feel, we should have won this series," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.
Playing with a broken left hand that forced him out of Games 2, 3 and 4, John Wall attacked the rim as if completely healthy and finished with 20 points, 13 assists and six rebounds. He began Friday's game with a beige bandage on his left wrist and black padding on the top of that hand. But in the second half, the black padding was gone.
Asked what he thinks might have happened if he had stayed healthy, Wall replied: "Only God knows how different it would have been."
Bradley Beal scored 29 points, including a baseline jumper to cap a 9-0 stretch and give Washington an 88-87 lead with a little more than 3 1/2 minutes left.
"It's frustrating. It's depressing. It's sad," Beal said. "It's probably every synonym of 'sad' you can think of."
Atlanta's last two field goals came off Teague-to-Carroll connections on what were supposed to be pick-and-roll plays involving Horford — the sort of teamwork the Hawks displayed at their best in the regular season.
"Those moments are beautiful," Teague said. "Like everyone says, I guess, we don't have a superstar or whatever. But we come up big in big moments every night."
The 37-year-old Pierce has a player option for next season but said after the game he'll need to discuss with his family whether to return.
"I don't even know if I'm even going to play basketball anymore," said Pierce, who was 1 for 7 and scored four points Friday. "These seasons get harder and harder the older you get. It's tough rolling out of bed every year, every day."
Hawks: Korver missed all seven 3-point tries in Game 6, making him 12 for 42 from beyond the arc in the series. ... The franchise's only NBA championship came in 1958, when it was based in St. Louis.
Wizards: Home teams fell to 0-6 this post-season in Game 6s. ... Wittman said Marcin Gortat had stomach problems overnight and needed to receive IV fluids. Gortat played only about 12 minutes, scoring two points.