SAN FRANCISCO -- When Jordan Poole closed the third quarter of NBA Finals Game 2 Sunday with back-to-back 3-pointers, the latter a 39-foot guided missile at the buzzer, the sellout crowd at Chase Center reacted with equal amounts of joy and relief.
It was as if a family member missing for days suddenly appeared at the front door with a smile and a bag of fresh fruit.
Fans across Dub Nation had waited for this moment, as had the Warriors, and their hope is that Poole’s 79 seconds of euphoria -- six points, one assist and zero turnovers -- were an indication that he has rediscovered the touch that makes him special.
“He was a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more under control tonight,” Stephen Curry said of Poole after a 107-88 victory over the Celtics tied the Finals at one game apiece. “Didn't go his way much early, but then he had that flurry.”
JP’s first half was a hideous, with three points on 1-of-5 shooting, with two assists, two rebounds and one turnover. It was a continuation of his Game 1 totals of nine points on 2-of-7 shooting, 1-of-5 from deep, with two rebounds, two assists -- and four turnovers.
An ugly six quarters raised concerns about Poole’s readiness for, if not the biggest NBA stage, the fierce defense of the Celtics. His production, particularly with Curry is off the floor, is high on the list of requirements for the Warriors to win the series.
“He had a tough time there in that second quarter, and he checked out,” Draymond Green said. “Steph came back in. We kind of got the game under control and (Poole) just stayed the course. He never wavered. That's important.
“When you're playing against a tough defensive team like that, sometimes it's going to be hard for a while and you just have to stay the course and get that breakthrough.”
Poole had some sloppy moments in the fourth quarter, as the Warriors were coasting to victory, but generally showed promise that maybe he had found his bearings. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting -- but was an impressive 5-of-9 beyond the arc -- as well as three assists and two steals.
“(I was) looking for my shot more,” Poole said. “The first game, I was trying to get my teammates involved, trying to get them easy looks because (the Celtics) were crowding me and they had a lot of attention on me in the non-Steph minutes.”
Poole’s effectiveness this postseason has been by turns fabulous and barely existent. He torched the Nuggets in the first three games of the first round but tailed off dramatically in the final two games. He lit up the Grizzlies in the first three games of the Western Conference semifinals but was lost over the final three. He seemed to steady himself the conference finals against Dallas, producing efficiently while also reducing his penchant for turnovers.
The wretched start to the Finals – against the league’s best defense – dramatically deviated from the pattern.
“The deeper you get in the playoffs, the better the competition, the better the defense,” coach Steve Kerr said. “You have to adjust. You've got to figure out how to attack, and you have to do that as a team. You have to do that individually, too.
“Jordan is still a very young player, learning on the fly. But he's had such a great season, and he's so talented and confident that I have a lot of faith that he'll figure this out. I thought tonight he did a good job of finding his way.”
Poole, a team-worst minus-19 over 25 minutes in Game 1, was plus-7 over 24 minutes in Game 2. The five 3-balls were significant insofar as that kind of shooting can force the Celtics to make a defensive adjustment, which could give Klay Thompson, struggling mightily through the first two games, more space with which to work.
With Curry playing very well, getting Poole and Thompson on track would put more stress on the Celtics’ defense than any of the three teams they defeated to reach the Finals.
Is Poole back to being the guy who can terrorize a defense? The guy not seen in the first six quarters of the Finals? His second half offense suggests he has returned to the fold.
If that JP sticks around, the Warriors’ chances improve exponentially.