SAN FRANCISCO — We know Jordan Poole can score, but can he become a closer?
The 23-year-old might be making $3.9 million this season in the final year of his rookie deal, but fair or not, most are judging him like a $30 million player since he signed his four-year, $123 million extension with incentives this past offseason.
So when he fumbles away a game in Utah, or dribbles into a last-second loss against the lowly Detroit Pistons, there’s eight figures worth of scrutiny on the young rising star. Wednesday night’s game provided an opportunity for redemption in his favorite time of the game – money time.
Klay Thompson hit a 3-pointer with 14.1 seconds left to put the Warriors ahead by two, but they gave up a Brandon Clarke dunk on the other end to tie up at the other end. With 2.1 seconds left, the Warriors got the ball out of bounds on a loose ball deflection. Golden State coach Steve Kerr has been a master at drawing up after timeout plays throughout his tenure, but he relied on a Draymond Green audible this time.
“Draymond called the play,” Kerr said. “We hadn’t practiced it in a couple of months. It was a little ambitious.”
Poole started out at the elbow and set screens for Klay Thompson and Anthony Lamb, who joined a screening Draymond Green on the left side of the floor. As soon as the key was cleared, Poole made eye contact and bolted to the bucket. The pass from Donte DiVincenzo was on the way.
Poole made an acrobatic left-handed finish with a second remaining and a last-ditch hail mary wasn’t answered for Memphis. JP was cash in the clutch to earn the 122-120 victory. A clutch moment where someone had to step up, as Steph Curry was ejected with 1:15 left for throwing his mouthguard – after Poole took an ill-advised 30-footer early in the shot clock. Good thing Poole made that last layup.
One by one, Poole’s teammates came by to congratulate him after the buzzer sounded.
“Fire. That's all I gotta say," Poole said of the postgame hugs. “That was pretty dope.”
Donte and Poole look like they’ve grown close this season, so it’s cool to see them share this moment together. But you can also see the huge bear hugs JP got from Klay and Draymond. They know that time is running out to get right, with just 34 games remaining before the postseason. This was a big win against the No. 2 squad in the West.
After seeing Poole struggle in high-leverage, last-second situations this season, Klay was stoked to see his young teammate make the big bucket.
“Incredible, heady play by Jordan,” Klay said. “Hard cut to the rim, great find by Donte. I’m very happy we’re not in overtime right now. Give JP a lot of props. That’s what a winner does. He just finds a way. … Happy for JP. Not sure the last time he had a game-winner, so that was great.”
No questions about Poole’s closing Wednesday night.
The young guard sparked the offense in the fourth quarter by scoring the first nine Warriors points of the period, as the Grizzlies carried a six-point lead after three quarters. Poole finished with 21 points and seven assists on 8-of-14 shooting.
It seemed the Warriors were headed toward another trainwreck of a loss against Memphis. The Dubs matched their season high with 21 turnovers and also committed 27 fouls, two short of their highest game total in what’s been a foul-happy season.
We keep waiting for the Warriors to flip the switch. There are games here and there that make you think the reigning champs finally got it figured out. Then they go out and play a head-scratcher and lose. Wednesday, they played a head-scratcher and somehow won.
Their 24-24 record is a perfect reflection of their mediocrity thus far. We know now it’s hazardous to call any game a ‘turning point’ for the Warriors’ season, but perhaps it’ll be a big moment for Poole to build on in his career as a closer.
“If anything, to take a positive away from it, is that later we know what to do in these close games,” Poole said. “We’re getting a lot of experience with close games in the regular season and that’ll definitely help us down the road and in the long run. We’ve been in a lot of these situations actually the past couple weeks. We’ve closed some, we haven’t closed some but we’re learning through all of this as a team.”