Klay Thompson dropped 42 points, threatening to break his own single-game NBA record and leading a Warriors offense that earned a much-needed blowout against Oklahoma City.
But it was Jordan Poole, not Thompson, who drew the most postgame praise.
“I thought that was the best game I’ve ever seen him play,” Draymond Green said of Poole postgame.
“I thought he was magnificent tonight,” Steve Kerr said of Poole. “One of the best games i’ve ever seen him play. Just so under control.”
Poole, 23, has had 40-point games. He’s made game-winners, both with the Warriors and for Michigan in March Madness. But he’s never played a game quite like Monday night against the Thunder.
Given the circumstances — the start of a pivotal stretch without Stephen Curry — Poole provided the Warriors everything and exactly what they needed. He dished a career-high 12 assists and racked up 21 points on 14 shots. He played under control, refraining from taking the types of ill-advised shots or committing the lazy turnovers that have often plagued him this year in a 141-114 Warriors win.
“Really efficient game for us tonight,” Poole delegated from the postgame podium. “Guys knocking down shots, we got in a good rhythm early. Lot of guys had big games.”
Without Curry, who is expected to miss several weeks with ligament and membrane damage in his knee, the Warriors need Poole to step up. Not necessarily as a scorer, but certainly as a facilitator.
Kerr said pregame that as long as the Warriors play with pace and share the ball, they’ll be able to weather the stretch without their two-time MVP. With Poole leading the charge, they assisted on 43 of their 56 made field goals and played opportunistically after defensive rebounds.
Poole said he didn’t approach the game differently, instead just took what the defense gave him. He felt the defense gearing up toward him even more than usual with him in Curry’s spot, loading up to his side and rotating early on the baseline. To counter that, he found the open passing windows the overreactions created.
He didn’t play hero ball. Poole dished nine assists before committing a turnover; he finished with four, but Green noted the last few were acceptable ones given the game state.
Though he’s not naturally a pure point guard, Poole has the talent to act as a floor general. He made extra passes, skip passes, pocket passes, entry passes, tricky passes, simple passes. Then later, when Oklahoma City threw two defenders at Thompson, Poole created shots for himself.
“I think the first half, he controlled the half without really scoring much at all,” Kerr said. “Klay was dominating, obviously, with his shot, but Jordan was controlling the game. Running the show and taking care of the ball. And then of course he started scoring in the second half, when that presented itself. He was just brilliant all night.”
Of Thompson’s 12 3-pointers, three were assisted by Poole. That includes the 12th on a fast break late in the fourth quarter in which Poole drove hard to the rim and slung a one-handed kick to the corner.
Even if he didn’t do it consciously, Poole certainly made an effort to get others, particularly Thompson, the ball. That corner 3 was a direct result of Poole knowing Thompson had the hot hand and doing everything he could to get him the ball in a scoring position.
“That’s his next level of growth,” Green said. “He has the ball a lot for this team. His next level of growth is understanding when you have the ball that much, the responsibility to get others involved. He was there from the jump. It wasn’t like he wasn’t getting (Thompson) involved the entire game, but at the end he was trying to force-feed him. Everywhere he went, he was trying to find him and get him the ball. And we’ve all been there.”
That’s an instinct that Poole hasn’t shown often this season. He was supposed to anchor Golden State’s second unit as a steadying force and dynamic scoring option. Instead, his erratic late-game decision-making and overall inconsistency has inspired recent crunch time benching and a lineup change to put him with the starters.
Perhaps with Curry sidelined, Poole can recapture some of the juice from last year that made the Warriors’ decision to extend him for $123 million a no-brainer.
That would begin with stringing together more games like Monday’s. And it would come when Golden State needs it most.