Jordan Poole has become a lightning rod for Warriors fans. Mention his name, and, well, let's just say a lot of folks understand why Draymond Green lost his cool with him prior to the season and landed a haymaker. That's not to say anyone condones Green smoking his teammate, but they understand how the frustration of dealing with Poole could boil over.
Poole is the definition of a wild card. Game to game, you never know what you're going to get. He could shoot you out of it, or shoot you all the way to a win. He takes a lot of "I think I'm better than I am" shots. He doesn't play a lick of defense. But as Green said on his podcast after the Game 1 loss on Tuesday, he can "shoot the piss out of the ball."
Poole indeed shot the lights out in Game 1, finishing 6 of 11 from deep for 21 points. HIs final attempt, a 27-foot potential game-tying bomb with less than 10 seconds remaining, immediately drew the ire of many Warriors fans who have run out of even their deepest reserves of Poole patience.
But it wasn't a bad shot. If Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson took it, you'd happily live with it. True, Poole isn't Curry or Thompson. He's not as good a shooter, and he hasn't built up four championships worth of leeway. Which is why he was open. The Lakers wanted it that way. And in a late-clock situation trailing by three, an open 3-pointer, from anyone, let alone from a guy who was 6 for 10 to that point from deep, is a bet worth placing.
"Pretty good look," Steve Kerr said. "That's a shot he can hit. Really happy with that possession. Jordan had six threes already. It was a great shot for us."
I agree with Kerr. Poole caught that pass with 10 seconds left. Jarred Vanderbilt was closing. If he tries to put that ball on the floor and create, that clock starts ticking real fast. Get down a few more seconds and that's when a panic shot comes.
Now, having said that, Poole could have done more before receiving the pass to position himself closer to the basket. Green could have put the ball on the floor into the teeth of the defense, which could potentially have resulted in a drive and kick to Poole, who then would've been stepping into his shot or had a chance to swing it one more time to Klay Thompson in the corner if the rotation came his way. ESPN's Tim Legler broke the nuances of the sequence down in fantastic fashion.
So again, there were things that could've been done to get a better shot, but this wasn't a bad shot. And the most important factor moving forward, anyway, is Poole continuing to shoot as well as he did Tuesday. It started out pretty rough. But Kerr stuck with Poole. Played him 30 minutes. The Warriors won those 30 minutes by seven. That means they lost the 18 minutes Poole didn't play by 12 in a five-point loss.
That's not an accident. The Warriors are far tougher to defend when Poole is on the floor, particularly in a small lineup with Draymond Green at center. That gives Golden State four shooters to honor rather than a three-shooter lineup with Kevon Looney and Green, which stretches the Lakers defense and opens up the floor for Golden State. Kerr went with this lineup over the final six minutes to close the game and it nearly resulted in a backdoor Warriors win.
But it doesn't work if Poole isn't making shots and plays. Poole is a risk-reward player. The risk is that he's going to have one of his wild nights where he takes a bunch of bad shots and doesn't make many of them and get toasted defensively. He kills the Warriors on those nights. But the reward of him having a big night is high for Golden State, which is short on shot creators and makers outside of Curry.
This makes Poole, for my money, Golden State's biggest X-factor for the remainder of this series. We saw in Game 1 that Anthony Davis is not going to be stopped by the Warriors' frontline. The Lakers outscored Golden State by 26 points in the paint and 20 points at the free-throw line. They are the bigger team. The more physical team. Golden State is going to have to win this series from behind the 3-point line. Chances are, Curry and Thompson can't do that alone.
They need Poole. Not just for the pure math of the series, but because the more shooters the Warriors put on the floor, the more Davis is forced out of the paint to help on them on ball screens and dribble handoffs. Looney has to play huge in this series just to halfway break even with Davis on the glass. He posted 23 rebounds in Game 1. Same number as Davis. Without Looney, Davis will bludgeon Golden State on the offensive glass.
But that's not an advantage. Looney represent damage control. Poole is where the Warriors can win the matchup, and it's the lineup Kerr is going to go with whenever Golden State needs points, which will be most of this series.
They nearly won the identity war in game in Game 1, hitting 21 3-pointers to the Lakers' six for a 45-point advantage. This is the equation moving forward, but again, it only works if Poole is contributing to the total. The Warriors can't depend on a big enough 3-point disparity from just Curry, Thompson and few random ones from JaMychal Green and Andrew Wiggins.
Poole is the difference maker in this series. I really believe that. He can be maddening to watch when he's at his worst, but at his best he can be the one that ultimately puts the Warriors on the plus side of what is effectively a series that will be decided by math.