Warriors

How Klay's brotherly mentorship of Poole helped Warriors

Warriors

BOSTON -- Each hug and each embrace was special for its own reason as the final seconds ticked off the clock Thursday night at TD Garden once it became official that the Warriors were champions once again, beating the Boston Celtics in six games during the 2022 NBA Finals. 

One of the longest and strongest was Jordan Poole putting his face into Klay Thompson's right shoulder, the two wrapping their arms around each other. Ten years apart in age, an unbreakable bond and a lifetime of mentorship was displayed under the lights of a crowning achievement: The first championship for the 22-year-old Poole and a fourth for the 32-year-old Thompson.

"He's taken me under his wing and from workouts together, to text to talks and conversations in the locker room and calls, it was really special to see somebody who is as closed off kind of like to himself," Poole said after an emotional pause at the postgame podium. "He's his own person, and for him to embrace me at such a young age and kind of take me under his wing, teach me his tricks and show me his blueprint is really special, and I'm glad to be part of that."

With a towel draped over him to soak up the celebratory champagne and his championship hat resting on top of his blue headband, Thompson sent a special message to reporters while walking up to his final interview of the season. 

"Last interview of the night," he said. "Man, I hate interviews! But I'm happy to be here. Man, this is great!" 

 

Poole has his 90-second rule for interviews, which has vanished as his star status has grown. Klay taps the table and often looks away as he answers questions, even in his 11th year as a pro, and ninth season when taking away his two lost years to injuries. 

It's the last place they want to be at times. On Thursday night in Boston, they soaked it all up. As Poole said, Thompson can be to himself. He's happiest in the water or on the hardwood. They're both gym rats, though, basketball junkies always striving to take their game to levels that so many doubted they would reach at one point. 

Steve Kerr tried to warn us in the offseason. After returning from the G League bubble in Orlando where he averaged over 22 points per game, Poole, the former No. 28 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, came back as a whole new player for the Warriors last season. He averaged 5.5 points before playing 11 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors, and 14.7 after. This past summer, Poole's second home was the gym. 

His work ethic never was in question after being drafted by the Warriors. He also knew he was capable of more than he displayed in his first two seasons as a pro. The work turned into results. 

As Thompson continued to battle his way back from his second of two grueling leg injuries that saw him miss two-and-a-half years of his prime, Poole stepped into his starting role seamlessly this season. In 32 games played -- 29 starts -- before Thompson returned on Jan. 9 from a 941-day hiatus, Poole averaged 17.5 points per game. He scored 20 points in the season opener, and reached that mark 11 times prior to Klay's return, including four games where he dropped at least 30 points. 

"With him going down earlier on this year, just being able to step into that role, show what I'm capable of, and you know, essentially hold it down until he comes back," Poole said. "We went on an 18-2 start, and I think that just showed how talented we are.

"He's taught me so much."

The closer it came to Klay coming back, the more Kerr made it clear that Thompson wasn't going to come off the bench. He earned the right to hear his name called in the starting lineup. That also brought up false grumblings of possible jealousy from Poole and a problem within the Warriors. 

The truth is, even if Poole wished to keep starting deep down like all true competitors, any feelings of animosity were far from reality. Because of Poole's rise this season, the dynamic between the two earned a brighter spotlight. This isn't something new for them, though. 

Golden State drafted Poole one week after Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals. It was his first major injury and a new low for him on and off the court. There were countless dark days. For Poole, the Splash Brother was a bright light when the Michigan product was struggling. 

 

Klay even saw a younger version of himself when Poole was a rookie, trying to get his feet wet on a Warriors team that had lost Thompson to injury, Kevin Durant to free agency and Steph Curry to injury four games into the season. The Warriors finished the regular season with the worst record in the NBA. Thompson made sure he was there to pick Poole up when he needed it most.

"When it comes to Jordan, that's my rook," Thompson said to reporters after the Warriors won the Western Conference, beating the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals at Chase Center. "I remember a couple years ago when he would go through a shooting slump, he would be so hard on himself. Reminded me of my younger self. I just kept telling him, it's going to pay off young fella, you're gonna play in the NBA Finals one day.

"I told him that on the bench, third game of the season when we were getting smacked. He was going through it as a 19-year-old rookie. Now for that to come to fruition, I mean, I'm so happy."

Upon Thomson's return, Poole was put to the bench. Well, at least half the time. Poole played 44 games after with Klay back in the fold, but the younger shooting guard still started 22 more games with the Warriors holding Thompson out from playing back-to-backs. And Poole only got better. 

He averaged 19.2 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from 3-point range. He erupted in his first career playoff game, scoring 30 points in Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets and went on to average 17.0 points per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from 3-point range throughout the playoffs. 

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Thompson played 32 regular-season games after completing his comeback. He scored 41 points in the season finale against the New Orleans Pelicans and scored 110 points over his final three games, averaging 20.4 points per game for the season. That gave him six straight seasons averaging at least 20 points per game. 

Game 6 Klay then showed up against the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 30 points at Chase Center to advance to the conference finals. Exactly 1,099 days after being back in a Warriors uniform, Thompson is a four-time champion. Along the way, he called his shot with his prediction to Poole. Not only did Jordan play in the Finals, he held a major key to winning his first ring.

Both grinded through the gutters each of the last two seasons, with the only thing being new bling on the other side. Their family-like brotherhood hushed all the naysayers, and it connects the future of this Splash Family. 

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