MEMPHIS — For the first time in these playoffs, Jordan Poole began the game from the bench.
The bench is not an unfamiliar place for the 22-year-old guard. He bounced between the starting lineup and reserve role during the season as the Warriors juggled Klay Thompson’s return and Steph Curry’s injury.
And while flip-flopping can take its toll on a young talent like Poole, he was the star in the Warrior’s thrilling 117-116 win on the road against the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
“Jordan was phenomenal,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s amazing to have a second playmaker next to Steph or in place of Steph when he goes to the bench.”
Down as many as 13 points to Memphis with Draymond Green ejected due to a flagrant two foul before halftime, Poole led Golden State back into the light with a team-high 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.
Finding lanes to the rim past Ja Morant and an imperfect Grizzlies interior defense playing small, pulling up fearlessly from 3-point land, Poole’s 17 second-half points were some of the Warriors’ most important in their second half comeback. Not bad for a bench guy.
“I’m just playing,” Poole said. “I know it’s pretty important, the way you start the second half. Go out and do what we need to do and get in rhythm.”
Poole was working in perfect rhythm, not only in finding his spots to score but distributing the ball and playing aggressive on the boards. He scored four times in a crucial third quarter in which the Warriors found their rhythm and a lead — twice on finger-roll layups that exposed the Grizzlies’ interior defense and twice from 3. He scored three times in the fourth quarter, including two lay -ups that helped extend a precocious Warriors’ lead mid-way through the final frame.
Most importantly, Poole stepped up into playmaking duties the minute Green was ejected. He was zipping dimes into the paint to cutters and for easy dunks and fed his fellow guards, Curry and Thompson, to keep the offensive engine moving — he had four assists in the fourth quarter.