SAN FRANCISCO — Jordan Poole had been dreaming of this moment since he was young. Each year, he would watch the NBA playoffs and envision what it would be like for the kid from Milwaukee to play at the big stage.
All those hours in the gym and watching film paid off Saturday.
Poole and the Warriors didn’t disappoint in their first playoff game at Chase Center as they fed off the energy from the raucous crowd to sail to a 123-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets to take Game 1 of the first-round series.
Saturday was a reunion for the championship core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, who hadn’t all been healthy for a single game this season. But the seasoned veterans welcomed a big part of the team’s future to their party: Poole.
The third-year guard, who started in Curry’s place, rose to the occasion in his playoff debut to the surprise of no one who’s watched him over the last six weeks. Poole dropped 30 points, shooting 9-of-13 overall and connecting on five of his seven 3-point attempts. His outstanding performance made him the third Warriors player to score at least 30 pints in their first playoff game, putting him in the company of Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Mitch Richmond.
“Jordan Poole, wow, what a playoff debut,” Thompson said after the win. “All his hard work is paying off. If he doesn’t get Most Improved this year, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Said coach Steve Kerr, “That’s kind of what we expected. He’s not afraid of the moment and he was looking forward to it. He works every day to prepare and he had a great game.”
Poole, one of the league’s best 3-point shooters over the last month, is making a strong case for Kerr to keep him in the starting lineup even with Curry being back. Not that Poole is worried about that.
“I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity when I’m out there, just continue to be aggressive, play my game,” Poole said. “My teammates and coaches told me just to be me.”
Kerr initially split up Curry and Poole for the first quarter and most of the second. There was a noticeable increase in tempo when he decided to unleash Poole, Curry, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Green to close out the first half.
The Warriors exploded for a 18-4 run in the final four minutes of the half, which was capped off by a Curry 3-pointer.
Golden State led 58-47 heading into the locker room and never looked back.
“[We’re] a unit that was pretty comfortable playing together, we haven’t played together much but in order to just feel each other out there, how dangerous we all are, just finding ways to get stops and just getting out in transition, we were just able to capitalize,” Poole said.
Thompson scored 19 points, connecting on five of his 10 3-point attempts, and Wiggins added 16 points.
Green, who had 12 points and nine assists, and Kevon Looney made Nikola Jokic’s life difficult Saturday, with Green at times frustrating the Nuggets big man. Jokic said the two did a “really good job” defending him.
Still, the Serbian giant led Denver’s scoring with 25 points. Guard Will Barton added 24 points.
“They have the tools, I think I missed a couple easy ones but they were defending me really well, so I need to be better,” Jokic said. “I just need to at least make the layups and the easy shots.”
Curry, who was under a minute restriction, finished with 16 points (3-for-6 from the 3-point line and 5-for-13 overall) in 22 minutes. Kerr said he’ll wait to see how Curry’s body reacts to playing and will consult with the Warriors’ training staff before determining the path forward for the rest of the series, which continues with Game 2 in San Francisco on Monday before heading to Denver later in the week.
Curry, who sees a lot of ice in his future, said managing his injury will be “a tough balance.”
“It’s tough because of the balance between the rehab and therapy part and managing it but also trying to get as much work in and getting my skill set right,” he said.
The Warriors are feeling good being up 1-0 in the series, but they know from experience that they can’t get too confident.
“In my experience in the NBA, Game 2 after a comfortable win in Game 1 is always a tough endeavor,” Kerr said. “So we know what’s coming. Denver has had a lot of success in the playoffs the last few years.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism