SAN FRANCISCO – In the final minutes of a close game Friday night, Jordan Poole was not in his usual space. He was, rather, right where he deserved to be.
On the court, where the Warriors needed him, rocking the 76ers to sleep.
In a tense fourth quarter with imposing NBA MVP candidate Joel Embiid trying to set fire to the scoreboard at Chase Center, the JP thrill ride was in peak form, providing a splendid blend of production and pizazz and carrying the Warriors to a 120-112 victory.
Poole’s performance was reminiscent of his work last postseason when he often swung crucial stretches of games toward Golden State.
“He had such a great playoff run last year and had so many big games for us,” coach Steve Kerr said. “And, tonight, something about it felt like last year in that playoff run, where Jordan is attacking and knocking down shots but also getting to the line. Just giving us an entirely different dimension offensively. He was magnificent tonight.”
Poole finished with 33 points, 19 of which came in the fourth quarter, which the Warriors entered trailing by nine (88-79). They won the quarter 41-24 – their highest-scoring fourth quarter this season – and JP was the catalyst.
“He was incredible,” Draymond Green said. “He was aggressive from the time he came into the game. He did a great job of picking and choosing his spots. And, also, on the defensive end, he was incredible.”
Golden State Warriors
Though JP also was an active participant in the team’s best defensive quarter, limiting Philadelphia to 40.9 percent shooting, his offense was at the essence of the comeback.
Often matched up against Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey, Poole outscored him 19-3 in the quarter. JP shot 6-of-9 from the field, including 2-of-3 from deep, along with 5-of-5 from the line.
On a night when Embiid gave the Warriors all manner of trouble, scoring a game-high 46 points, Maxey was so determined to respond to JP’s fourth-quarter fireworks that he launched six shots. He made one.
Not that Poole, who surely noticed his destruction of Maxey, was willing to acknowledge the individual competition.
“I just be out there hoopin,’ bro,” Poole said after pausing for a giggle.
Poole has been subjected to considerable criticism this season. Opponents often target his defense. His shooting efficiency is down from last season, while his turnovers are up. His decision-making is by turns proper and reckless. With the Warriors having a disappointing season, his inconsistencies often fall under the microscopes of fans and media.
“It's definitely playoff JP but what's crazy is that you all know that,” Poole said in a postgame interview on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors Postgame Live. “You guys know that. So, I don't want to hear anything else – all that extra slander that you all be talking about. You all know what it is.”
In a season of apexes and nadirs, this was JP in full crest. The 10-of-19 shooting from the field, the 6-of-11 shooting from distance, the three assists to one turnover, the plus-13 over 32 minutes. The judgment was prudent, the timing impeccable.
“Just better decision making and more mindful play,” Kerr said. “Understanding that the ball is everything for us. We're a high-turnover team as it is; we always have been with our starting group. We get a little chaotic with Draymond and Steph and Klay (Thompson) sometimes. So, it's important for the guys, coming off the bench to make sure they're taking care of it.
“We had five or six turnovers really quickly in the game and then only 11 total for the game. We did a great job of taking care of the ball, and Jordan had a lot to do with that.”
It’s as if much of what JP has been grappling with gave way on this night under the weight of his gifts prudently harnessed. He was spectacular at times but balanced it with moments of stability.
“It’s just clear that when you approach the game the right way in the sense of effort and focus – across the board, not just with JP – that good things usually happen on both sides of the ball,” Stephen Curry said.
“He had 19 in the fourth. He competed on the other end and got rewarded for it. He was just very assertive and decisive the whole frame. For us to have the versatility to call his number for the majority of the fourth . . . it was a fun way to play and to see him go off.”
There is as much fun for the Warriors in seeing JP thrive as there is in knowing they will wake up Saturday morning one-half game out of fourth place in the Western Conference. They likely would not be so close without Poole’s closing burst.
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As this season has lumbered on, Kerr generally has opted to sit JP in the final minutes of a close game. Wouldn’t risk the possession-killing turnovers. Couldn’t take a chance on apathetic defense.
Not so in Game No. 75. Poole was too rhythmic to interrupt. He played all 12 in the fourth, giving the Warriors a reason to feel great about where they are in the standings and how high they can go over the next 16 days.