MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Start, bench, start, bench, start, bench. Call it a roller coaster if you want, or even a teeter-totter if you prefer. Jordan Poole's third NBA season has been nothing short of a juggling act built for the circus.
His latest performance called for him to be the star of the show Sunday at FedEx Forum in the Warriors' nail-biter of a 117-116 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. But, he had to wait his turn.
Poole started all five games of the Warriors' first-round series win against the Denver Nuggets, and got off to a red-hot start. In his first three playoff games, he put up 30, 29 and 27 points, good for an average of 28.7 points per game. If it weren't for him uncharacteristically missing three free throws in Game 3, he would have had two 30-point performances in his first three games to start off his playoff career.
Not bad for someone who was named to the All-NBA G League Third Team last season.
In the final two games of the opening round, however, Poole fizzled off to the tune of 19 combined points while going 6-for-20 from the field and 2-for-9 from deep. Confidence never wavered from Steve Kerr and the rest of the Warriors' coaching staff. With Golden State facing a much-different task in Ja Morant and the Grizzlies, though, Kerr opted to go with Gary Payton II in the starting lineup over Poole for his defensive prowess to kick off the second round.
There wasn't some long conversation between Kerr and Poole once it was deemed he was coming off the bench for the first time since March 10. There didn't need to be. All the rising star needed to do was look at what his two-time NBA MVP teammate just did.
"I didn't say it, but Steph Curry came off the bench for four games in the Denver series," Kerr said. "If Steph Curry can come off the bench, anybody can come off the bench."
Poole only needed three words when asked about the talk between him and Kerr when it was decided that he would come off the bench Sunday in Memphis: "It's the playoffs," he said without hesitation.
He continued on with his answer, but those three words -- along with Kerr's response -- say it all. Curry could have demanded he start right away after missing one month with a sprained left foot. Instead, he let the game come to him his first game back and slowly started dominating once again. All while coming off the bench.
Leadership is contagious in all the right ways, and it clearly trickled down to Poole and many other Warriors. Poole could have complained, he could have pouted about being sent back to the bench. He has proven himself, showcased his enormous potential and has set himself up for a pretty payday. From the mouths of his coaches and teammates, Poole did the quite opposite of sulking.
The Warriors are back where they feel they belong on the big stage, and veterans like Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and others badly want to wear a fourth championship ring. Poole wants a taste of that glory, and he was a huge reason why the Warriors now are one step closer to their ultimate goal with their win against the Grizzlies.
At the 6:30 mark in the first quarter, Poole entered the game for the first time, coming in for Payton. He immediately grabbed a rebound but missed his first shot attempt before making his next two to end the first quarter with four points. As the Warriors struggled with early foul trouble and entered the second quarter down by eight points, Poole put up 10 points in the second, giving him 14 for the half.
Coming out of halftime, Poole again sparked the Warriors' offense with 10 more points in the third quarter and then seven in the fourth, giving him a team-high 31 points in 38 minutes off the bench. That's a new playoff career-high, and his second-highest scoring game off the bench this season -- second to only his 32 vs. the Miami Heat on Jan. 3.
We've come to see that Poole can be a walking bucket. This isn't new. But he was more than just a scorer in the Warriors' crucial Game 1 win.
Poole also added nine assists and his eight rebounds were the second-most of his young career. He was a team-high plus-10 in plus-minus and even blocked two shots for good measure.
"Jordan was phenomenal," Kerr said. "It means so much for us to have a second playmaker on the floor next to Steph, or in place of Steph when he goes to the bench. Both Steph and Jordan were fantastic."
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Let's stop with any Curry comparisons when it comes to Poole. It's not fair to the 22-year-old, and the game has seen only one Steph. There is no duplicate, there is no clone.
That doesn't mean he hasn't shined running the same kind of sets that Curry does, or that he can heat up from long distance while becoming a better finisher at the rim like Curry has. More importantly, he proved he can take a page out of the Curry Leadership Book and be a difference-maker no matter what job is asked of him.
The job is far from over in this series, and the Warriors know it. It also certainly just became a whole lot easier with one win down, due in large part to Poole showing his growth once again under the bright lights.