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SAN FRANCISCO – The smile on Stephen Curry’s face widened.
After the time had expired, the ball simply smacked through the net. Curry didn’t shoot this time. That 39-foot lever belonged to Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole. Doesn’t matter. Curry looked just as ecstatic after the ball went through the rim as if he was still in charge.
Shortly after the crowd at the Chase Center roared their approval of Poole’s highlight role, Curry gave his teammate both a high five and a hug. The two had been talking all season about how a long-range shot at the end of a quarter could create game-long momentum. Because of these implications, Curry and Poole even practiced those half-court starts at drills and shootouts.
“We have a little competition,” Curry said, grinning. “If you make one during the game, we count it. So he took the lead tonight.”
Jordan Poole beats the Q3 buzzer!
– NBA (@NBA) June 6, 2022
Undoubtedly the most important league race is the Warriors’ 107-88 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday at the Chase Center. Not only did the Warriors draw 1-1 in the Finals series, they also hosted Game 5 on their home field next Monday after traveling to Boston for Game 3 on Wednesday (9 ET, ABC) and Game 4 on Friday.
But Poole’s 39-foot goal late in the third quarter did more than extend the Warriors’ lead to 87-64 before heading into the final period. Poole provided both an instant highlight and growth after battling through the first six quarters of the NBA Finals. Poole finished the game with 16 points while shooting 6-14 overall and 5-9 from 3-point range in 23 minutes off the bench after a poor first half (three points on 5-1 shooting) and showed a promising result in the third quarter (six points on a 2-of-2 clip).
“He’s so talented and so confident that I have no doubt he can do it,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “I thought he did a good job of finding his way tonight.”
Poole struggled to find his way in the Warriors’ 120-108 loss in Game 1 on Thursday. After impressing the Warriors with improved scoring and playmaking in both the regular season and the playoffs, Poole initially looked overwhelmed on the finals stage. He finished with nine points while shooting 2-for-7 and 1-for-5 overall from deep and committing four turnovers in 25 minutes.
After teammates Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala berated Poole for some of those mistakes, Poole’s teammates offered more positive reinforcement. Poole vowed he would improve in Game 2 by maintaining his aggressiveness while honing his decision making.
As much as the Warriors’ fortunes depend on Curry, Green and Klay Thompson, Golden State needed Poole to play well enough to ease the workload of his star teammates. Poole initially didn’t seem up to the task in Game 2, however.
After Poole wrapped up the final 5:30 of the first quarter with relatively harmless three points on 1-on-2 shooting and an assist, Poole unraveled in the second period. While resting, Curry opened the quarter by missing both a 3-pointer and a layup. Poole fell on the final miss after Celtics forward Derrick White blocked the shot. Poole then threw his hands up after White vaulted over him, causing White to fall.
Officials reviewed the game to determine if Poole engaged in a hostile act. They gave Poole a joint foul after realizing he was throwing his hands up to stop White from stepping on his head. But Poole’s problems were just beginning.
A little over a minute later, Poole missed another layup. Two minutes later, Poole committed an offensive foul. Kerr then replaced Poole with Curry at 8:11 a.m., and at that moment it appeared to have been the end of Poole’s night. However, he redeemed himself in the final 1:19 of the third quarter with a 29-foot backstep with 29.7 seconds left and then his 39-foot stride on the buzzer. After Andrew Wiggins tossed him an exhaust pass from a miss five seconds from time, Poole dribbled just over half court with his left hand. Then he pulled up for the swish.
“We talked about this in Shootaround a few days ago. Someone would take a half-field shot in that series, whether it was me or Steph,” Poole said. “I met it by accident.”
Poole described this development as “just being aggressive and trying to make the right plays for the team”. But the Warriors saw Poole subtly change his approach.
Curry noted that Poole was playing “a little more in control.” The warriors noticed that Poole didn’t seem upset.
“He never wavered. That’s important,” Green said. “He stayed the course and didn’t start to force things. He kept playing offense and then it was up to him a bit.”
Was Poole’s buzzer beater also a breakthrough? The warriors certainly hope so. Aside from Curry’s offensive brilliance (29 points in 9-for-21 shooting), Golden State has received little other offensive help. Thompson scored 11 points on just 4-for-19 shooting while Wiggins added 11 points on a 4-for-12 clip. How Poole either sinks or swims as he moves forward could prove the difference if the warriors have just enough to lighten Curry’s burden.
“Jordan is still a very young player and is learning spontaneously,” said Kerr. And when Curry hugged Poole following his buzzerbeater, it seemed like Poole would be able to spread his wings.
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Mark Medina is a Senior Writer/Analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him on twitter.
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