1. Poole thrives on his biggest stage yet
Asked how it went when he told guard Jordan Poole he’d be coming off the bench in the opener against Memphis, Warriors coach Steve Kerr kind of smirked. Kerr didn’t actually bring this up to Poole but he reminded reporters that, er, Steph Curry willingly came off the bench for the first four games of the first-round series against Denver, as he worked his way back from a foot injury that cost him three weeks.
“If Steph Curry can come off the bench,” Kerr said, “anybody can come off the bench.”
So Poole came off the bench – did he ever. The third-year guard who blossomed right into Most Improved Player conversations wound up scoring 31 points with eight rebounds, nine assists and two steals. He was a team-best plus-10 and wound up staying on the floor longer than any of his teammates anyway (37:30).
“It means so much to us to have a second playmaker on the floor next to Steph,” Kerr said, “or in place of Steph when he goes to the bench.”
Poole, who started 51 games in the regular season and all five against Denver, actually started the second half when the Warriors moved furniture around to make up for Draymond Green’s ejection after a flagrant 2 foul near the end of the second quarter.
Poole ups the potency of Golden State’s backcourt, turning a difficult chore for Memphis of coping with Curry and Klay Thompson into something truly confounding.
“Tonight was the rule rather than the exception,” Kerr said. “The Jordan we’ve seen the last few months, this is what he looks like. He’s not always going to make five 3s and 31 points, almost a triple-double, but he’s a playmaker, he’s a shot creator.”
Said Curry: “He hadn’t been on this stage before, and it’s not something you can teach, being ready for a moment like this. But the way he stepped up really helped us. He played an amazing floor game.”
2. From Splash Brothers to Stop Brothers
You play the Grizzlies, you shoulder the responsibility of defending Ja Morant, Memphis’ frenetic, exciting point guard. Morant’s averages in three regular-season meetings against the Warriors (26.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3-for-16 on 3s) was a tad off from his overall season stats, and he got ground on hard in the first-round series against Minnesota. But there were no assurances he might not explode in the semis, so the visitors went all-in on thwarting him.
First, Gary Payton II took Poole’s starting spot as the designated Morant shadow. Poole took his turn. And when it mattered most, there were Curry and Klay Thompson bailing out the defense on two key possessions.
First, Curry knocked the ball away from Morant with 19.8 seconds left as he maneuvered on the left side of the lane.
STEPH WITH A HUGE PLAY ON DEFENSE 👀 pic.twitter.com/6FpeMT7rPP
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 1, 2022
“Steph has been underrated as a defensive player for a long time,” Kerr said. “I think this was his best defensive season of his career. His ability from him to stay in front, to get his hand on loose balls, a shot or rebounds. ”
Thompson’s turn came next, on the heels of missing two free throws with 6.7 seconds left. Sure, he hit the 3-pointer that gave Golden State its 117-116 lead, but missing both? Memphis got the ball in the frontcourt with 3.6 seconds left and a great chance to tie or win.
A look at the final possession of Game 1 from inside the arena! pic.twitter.com/TMsAwMs6mc
— NBA (@NBA) May 1, 2022
Morant’s running start across midcourt and pass from Brandon Clarke sent a red alert through the Warriors. Thompson peeled off Clarke and angled the Memphis guard just enough, with Payton catching up to help, to cause a miss from left of the basket that went over the rim.
Thompson breathed a sigh of relief and was proud afterward that he hadn’t stewarded about the free throws.
“That’s just championship DNA, focusing on what wins games,” Curry said. “Had he been thinking about the free throws, maybe he’s a step slow and it’s an easier finish. So yeah, it’s kind of serendipitous to go this way.”
3. Grizzlies move up to face the varsity
Memphis had a brutal turnaround, from clinching its series against Minnesota Friday evening and traveling home, to playing the opener as a matinee. It got strong games from its two best players, Morant with 34 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists, Jaren Jackson Jr. with 33 points and 10 boards.
What it didn’t have was the same comeback ability it showed three times against the Timberwolves. Main reason? The Warriors aren’t the Timberwolves.
The Grizzlies trailed 103-93 with 8:25 left, then outscored Golden State 19-7 over the next six minutes to take a 112-110 lead. They edged ahead twice more but each time, the Warriors countered. First with a dunk by Andrew Wiggins, then a layup by Payton and finally Thompson’s 3.
Those double-digit recoveries were looking strictly like a first-round thing.
Here’s one reason for the difference: In Game 6 against Minnesota, the Grizzlies limited the Wolves to a mere seven second-chance points. The Warriors reset for 26 of them in this one.
4. Draymond goes, Warriors relish the challenge
Green’s flagrant 2 foul – for making contact with Clarke’s arm and then pulling him to the floor by the jersey with 1:18 left before halftime – delighted the fans at FedEx and left the Warriors peeved. Maybe a little extra resolve was what enabled them to outscore Memphis 36-29 in the third quarter, outrebound the Grizzlies 50-47 and come up with those key stops.
Pool Report on the Flagrant Foul Penalty 2 issues to Golden State’s Draymond Green https://t.co/KRzHATJ6fn
— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) May 1, 2022
Certainly, Golden State’s feelings about the call might have been different had the outcome gone differently. But just being in the environment, hearing the crowd, haggling with the referees, all if it had the Warriors flashing back to glory days that fizzled the past couple seasons.
“I just missed everything about this,” Curry said. “The atmosphere, the opportunity to play meaningful games that require everything.”
Said Thompson: “That was a fun night, man. After the two years I had and now back to feeling the highs and lows of playoff basketball. It’s awesome.”
Or as Kerr put it: “The last two years have been really boring.”
5. Don’t sleep on those jump balls
Look, it’s refreshing not to have every out-of-bounds play getting reviewed, one after another after another, down the stretch of games. But if the officials aren’t going to check themselves, teams are going to have to spend a little more time on the old boring jump ball, a compromise call that loomed large in the final minute Sunday.
Golden State put together an extended possession that wound up needing a jump ball between Thompson and Dillon Brooks. The tap went out off Memphis, effectively setting up Thompson’s 3-pointer.
With 4.8 seconds left, the referees couldn’t agree on possession after Thompson’s second missed free throw, so they jumped it up with Jackson and Andrew Wiggins. Jackson tapped to Clarke, giving the Grizzlies that final after-timeout chance.
Boring as they are, jump balls can swing a game, no matter how little they’re stressed.
“You definitely work on jump balls a handful of times a year, but not enough,” Kerr said. “What I found when I first started coaching was, you’d have 12 things on your list [for practice] and you can only get seven of them in. [So] you’ve got five things you’re stressed about, and jump balls are one of ’em.”
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