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Poole dazzles in playoff debut, leads Warriors past Nuggets

The question before Saturday night’s Chase Center playoff debut wasn’t if Stephen Curry would play — that had already been confirmed by Steve Kerr — but what the starting lineup would look like alongside him.

Then, before the Warriors took the court to warm up, a shock announcement came down: Curry himself would come off the bench, with Jordan Poole starting, like he had down the stretch of the regular season.

It was a decision Curry made himself, electing to let the red-hot Poole continue his rise and start his first career playoff game. Safe to say, that was probably the correct call, especially after seeing the Warriors 123-107 stomp the Denver Nuggets in Game 1.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors locker room at Chase Center.

After a quiet first quarter from both Poole and Curry, Poole went nuclear in the second with 14 points on a steady diet of deep 3’s, acrobatic layups and step back jumpers.

Kerr said that all the vets trust Poole in any situation after what they’ve seen him accomplish this season:

He’s earned the respect and the trust of his teammates and they believe in him and they see what he’s done all year, so there’s no hesitation to put the ball in his hands.”

And then Poole kept it going for the rest of the night, finishing with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

He was, in a word, fearless. The bright lights of the playoff atmosphere didn’t soften his game, it actually enhanced it.

Kerr said he saw glimpses of this Poole during last season’s play-in games:

Technically his first playoff game, but our two play-in games last year sure felt like playoff games. He played great in those two games, so this is kind of what we expected. He’s not afraid of the moment, he was looking forward to it, he works everyday to prepare. He had a great game.”

Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole (3) drives through Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton (5) and scores during Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in San Francisco on Saturday, April 16, 2022. (Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca)

Poole has proven to be at his best when all eyes are on him.

Whether that’s when Klay Thompson or Curry have missed games due to injury, or when the stakes are the highest like down the stretch of the regular season or here in the playoffs.

It looks like the Warriors have found a star, and one who most likely won’t be relinquishing his starting spot anytime soon.

Thompson heaped praise on Poole after the game:

Jordan Poole wow, what a playoff debut. All his hardwork is paying off. If he doesn’t get most improved this year it just doesn’t make any sense. Without him we would not be where we are at.”

But it wasn’t just Poole going crazy by himself, it was the lineups surrounding him that truly unlocked the third-year guard.

It was when Kerr went small and had Poole flanked by Thompson, Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green that they opened the game up.

Curry looked a step slow, couldn’t find his shot, and didn’t look to attack much. He didn’t score his first points of the game till a minute left in the first half and didn’t hit his first field goal until there was 4.2 seconds remaining.

And yet even with all that, having Curry on the wing opened up the lane for Poole to cook.

Kerr said while it wasn’t Curry’s usual performance, he liked the patience he played with:

I liked the way he approached the game, I think his first stint he didn’t even shoot, took care of the ball, had a couple of assists, just got his feet wet. And kind of found his rhythm as the game went on. It’s a really good first game back for him.”

Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) dunks in the first half during Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets in San Francisco on Saturday, April 16, 2022. (Scot Tucker/SFBay.ca)

The first time that five-man unit shared the court was with 4:23 to go in the second quarter, and all they did was rattle off an 18-6 run that blew open the game, and perhaps the series, as the Nuggets had no answer.

The pace quickened, the intensity ratcheted up, and the Warriors looked like a team that should be absolutely feared in a seven-game series.

Of course, none of that could have happened if not for Green morphing into ‘playoff Draymond’ and being an absolute madman on defense.

It’s been three long years since Green has tasted the playoffs, but Green showed he’s still the same monster when the games matter most.

Kerr said that Green needed this game, and that he had been antsy to get back to playoff basketball over the last few days:

These last five days, he was on edge. I could feel it. We just needed to get to the game today for his sake. He bounced to the gym today for our walk-through, all energy and all smiles. It was finally game day and that’s what Draymond lives for.”

The Warriors opted to open the game with Kevon Looney taking the brunt of the Nikola Jokic assignment, but going forward, it should be Green for as many minutes as he can handle.

He single-covered the MVP candidate for essentially all of the second half, and while the Joker had 25 points, he had just six assists and was rendered pretty human.

Green fought and battled in the post and pushed the ball off every rebound. By the end of the third quarter of Game 1, Jokic looked absolutely gassed, which doesn’t bode well for the big man who had eight days off prior to this game.

Poole said you could feel the shift in Green with the playoff lights on:

You feel it, he stepped it up a notch. Him being our leader we feed off of his energy. And being able to see head honcho go out there, be aggressive, knock down huge shots, make big plays, get huge stops against the MVP, we feed off of that.”

But that’s what Green does, especially to more lumbering opposing centers.

It’s what he’s done during his entire Warriors career. And if Saturday night is any indication, he’s going to be doing it during another deep playoff run.

Up Next

Game 2 will be back at Chase on Monday. Expect a different starting lineup though as Stephen Curry will almost assuredly be back as a starter.

Notes

Poole’s 30 points tied him with Mitch Richmond for the second highest scoring Warriors playoff debut in franchise history. … The last time Stephen Curry came off the bench was also in the playoffs in 2018 when he also returned from injury.


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