Jordan Poole’s 30-point playoff debut helps Warriors win Game 1

Warriors guard Jordan Poole delivered for Golden State in their first playoff game.

SAN FRANCISCO – After the ball left his hands and fell into the basket, the Golden State Warriors star couldn’t help himself. He celebrated.

He moved his tongue. He danced as he made his way to the sideline. And he showed the joy that defines Warriors culture.

It would have been poetic if this piece described one of Stephen Curry’s spectacular 3-pointers in his first game since nursing a left foot injury last month. Curry has already produced these moments endlessly over his 13-year career. Maybe that time will come another time.

Instead, this game captured one of Jordan Poole’s dramatic shots in his first career playoff game that fueled the Warriors’ 123-107 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their playoff series. first round Saturday at the Chase Center. Poole emulated Curry with his production of points (30), shots on goal (9 for 13), 3-point shots (5 for 7) and assists (three). Poole also mirrored Curry’s ways with both his elegant play and cheerful celebrations.

Jordan Poole finished with 30 points in his playoff debut on Saturday.

“It’s his personality,” Curry said. “He’s not lacking in self-confidence.

It might be one thing for Poole, 22, to exude confidence. Most young players operate this way. It becomes another thing when Poole has backed that up with his work.

Certainly, the Warriors won’t confuse Poole’s play with Curry’s credentials as a three-time NBA champion, two-time regular-season MVP and the NBA’s all-time leading shooter. But the Warriors didn’t seem surprised that Poole would become the 35th player in NBA history to score at least 30 points in his first career playoff game. With Poole tying Mitch Richmond for the second-most points for a Warriors player in their playoff debut behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 35, Poole offered the latest example of his continued development in his third NBA season.

“Jordan Poole, wow, what a playoff start,” Thompson said. “All his hard work is paying off. If he doesn’t get ‘Most Improved [Player]’ This year, it makes no sense. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are. »

The Warriors’ quest to return to win an NBA championship after struggling once in the NBA Draft lottery (2020) and once in the NBA play-in tournament (2021) will likely hinge on familiar figures with Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew. Iguodala.

Without a doubt, they all offered promising signs in the Warriors’ playoff debut. In his first playoff game since tearing the ACL in his left knee in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, Thompson again offered his spot-check with 19 points while going 7-for-15 from the field and 5-for-10 from 3-point range. In his first playoff game since that time, Green offered the same usual defensive intensity that made Nuggets center Nikola Jokic miserable despite his 25-point performance on 12-on-15 shooting. Iguodala provided consistent leadership in a few minutes (13 minutes).

It doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that the Warriors wouldn’t have won Game 1 if not for Poole’s play. After Poole started the 12 games that Curry missed with a bone bruise and a torn ligament in his left foot, Warriors coach Steve Kerr kept Poole in the starting lineup. And why not? He set career highs in points per game (18.5), assists (4.0) as well as shooting from the field (44.8%), 3-pointers (36.4%) and in free throw (92.5%).

“He earned the respect and trust of his teammates,” Kerr said. “They believe in him and they see what he’s been doing all year. So, there is no hesitation in putting the ball in his hands.

Here is the kick. Poole initially had the ball in his hands at Curry’s expense. The Warriors presented Curry off the bench with a minute restriction (22) in hopes of easing his workload after not playing in an NBA game in about a month. That might be a tough request for Curry to accept due to his credentials. But he admittedly felt willing and comfortable with the arrangement in part because of Poole’s presence.

“It’s a huge part of it, especially how he’s finished the season over the last two months, basically,” Curry said. “But it’s also confidence in what we do as a team.”

Curry still finished with 16 points while shooting 5 for 13 from the field and 3 for 6 from deep, a performance Curry described as “smooth, for the most part”. But he remained patient with his return. After entering the game with 5:51 to go, Curry didn’t shoot until the middle of the second quarter. During that streak, Poole already had 11 points.

NBA TV analyzes Jordan Poole’s performance in Game 1 against Denver.

“I felt well prepared,” Poole said. “The coaching staff did a really good job putting the game plan together, putting it in place and then we did a really good job as a team just going out there and putting it in place. performer.”

But Poole’s preparation goes beyond the Warriors coaching staff, setting him up for success.

Preparation began when the Warriors selected Poole 28th overall in the 2019 NBA draft. By then, Poole had developed as a dynamic shooter and playmaker through the AAU circuit, Milwaukee Rufus King High School and the University of Michigan. During those stops, Poole’s coaches touted his confidence. But they marveled more at his coaching ability and his quest for self-improvement.

The Warriors found Poole equally receptive to refining his shot and improving his defense. They appreciated that Poole accepted criticism without taking it personally, while showing enough confidence to challenge his coaches and teammates in hopes of improving. They also observed that Poole extended his workouts after practices and at night after strong and poor performances.

“It’s just his hunger,” Thompson said. “He’s always had talent. He had a sense of manipulation. He had the blow. But it’s his work ethic that will propel him.

Consequently, Kerr was encouraged by Poole’s strong performance in the Warriors’ two Play-In games last year against the Los Angeles Lakers (10 points on 4-for-9 shooting) and the Memphis Grizzlies (19 points on a 6-for-11 shot). Kerr likened those moments to “essentially playoff games.” Consequently, Kerr predicted that Poole “wasn’t going to be shy” on his actual debut.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Poole said. “Obviously, from the playoffs last year, the play-offs, people I asked said it was pretty close in terms of atmosphere, physicality and details. We just try to be as prepared as possible.

Boy, did Poole look prepared. After all, he maintained that he didn’t feel out of phase with the bright lights and louder crowd. Poole recalled that “it’s just basketball”.

At the start, Poole remained patient with his attacking point so he could observe the Nuggets’ defensive strategy. But it didn’t take long for Poole to play aggressively.

On one play, Poole threw a pocket pass to Warriors forward Kevon Looney between a handful of Nuggets defenders for an open layup. On another play, Poole passed Denver guard Austin Rivers for a reverse layup.

On another play, Poole dribbled past Nuggets guard Will Barton to his right before stepping into the Euro and throwing a layup almost inside out. After drawing a foul and making the lay-up, Poole roared and nodded. This play prompted Curry to raise his hands above his head. He then approached Poole with a high five.

“There’s no better feeling than having guys behind you who’ve fought before,” Poole said. “They’ve been there at the highest level. You know, knowing that if you make mistakes, you’ve got these guys who will come and get you.

For example, Iguodala pulled Poole to the side to explain defensive cover to ensure Jokic couldn’t find an open perimeter shooter. Otherwise, Poole’s teammates would often cheer him on after a good play.

Those moments came most often when Poole was part of a closing lineup with Curry, Thompson, Green and Andrew Wiggins for the final 4:23 of the second quarter. During that streak, the Warriors secured a 58-47 halftime lead by going 18-4. Next, Poole made a 28-foot-3 and a reverse layup, while setting up Thompson for an open 27-footer.

Jordan Poole shone alongside Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in Game 1.

“He’s like Steph with the ball in his hands when it comes to his ability to shoot the pick-and-roll,” Thompson said. “We’ve just developed great chemistry over the past two months playing ball.”

No wonder Kerr has a tough decision to make soon enough. No doubt Curry will eventually return to his starting spot once the Warriors medical staff are encouraged by the resistance of Curry’s left foot. Maybe it will happen as early as Game 2. But will it come at the expense of Poole? Or can the Warriors still feature Curry, Thompson and Poole together in a three-guard formation?

“Yeah,” Kerr said before letting silence fill the air for a few moments. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

To Poole’s credit, he did not question his evolving starting and reserve roles. He started for almost half the season until Thompson returned after nearly 2½ years away. Poole’s minutes then fluctuated depending on Thompson’s availability consecutively. Poole then enjoyed promotion during Curry’s absence. Don’t expect Poole to complain anytime soon.

“Just try to make the most of my opportunity when I’m there. Just keep being aggressive and playing my game and all my coaches and teammates just tell me to be me,” Poole said. “Adjustments change. You have to be ready, you have to be ready. »

Because of this preparation, Poole mirrored his better imitation of Curry in the opener with both his game and his mannerisms. After watching Poole’s loud celebration after his deep 3-pointer, Curry smiled and laughed.

“This piece embodied that,” Curry said. “Because you just have the creativity, the confidence to do a piece. You don’t guess yourself. You kind of live with the results and we’ve all been doing it for years and he’s getting into it now. It’s fun to see.

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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