SAN FRANCISCO — Jordan Poole didn’t say much about his performance on Saturday, and he didn’t have to. The rookie’s game spoke convincingly on his behalf.
Leading the Warriors against the Lakers during a fourth-quarter comeback that sliced what had been a 21-point deficit to five makes its own statement.
While the eyes of everyone at Chase Center on Saturday and many around the NBA were focusing on the Warriors’ latest fascinating acquisition — Andrew Wiggins — Poole spent most of his minutes and all of the final 12 looking like the first-round draft pick that he is.
With the Warriors trailing 96-84, they opened the fourth quarter with Poole joined by four teammates — Zach Norvell Jr., Jeremy Pargo, Alen Smailagic and Juan Toscano-Anderson — whose last postgame showers were taken in the G League. Poole was the vet. It seemed to inspire the 6-foot-4 shooting guard.
He unleashed his entire scoring arsenal. Floaters. Drives. Pull-up 3-pointers. Step-back jumpers. Even sprinkled some old-school flavor with a finger roll that narrowed the score to 121-116 with 39.1 seconds to play.
LeBron James, who re-entered the game at the first sign of Poole’s binge, finally silenced Poole and the Warriors with his money shot, that familiar step-back three from the deep left wing that put the Lakers up eight with 17.6 seconds remaining.
Scoring 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and 2-of-4 from deep in the quarter, Poole wouldn’t meekly accept the blowout. The Warriors were energized enough that coach Steve Kerr sent his starters, save shooting guard Damion Lee, back into the game.
So, the Lakers summoned their king.
Asked after the game about coach Steve Kerr leaving him in for the entire quarter, Poole kept it brief: “It felt good,” he said.
Kerr, however, took a few moments to elaborate. He has watched Poole’s season unfold with very few instances of NBA-caliber play. His shooting percentages overall and from beyond the arc have remained below 30 percent.
After Poole dropped out of the rotation in December, general manager Bob Myers and Kerr dispatched him to the G League Santa Cruz Warriors for three games.
Kerr surely realized the kid was in a groove, so he let it ride.
“He was going well, and we were on a nice run and that’s generally how we do it and especially this year because we’ve had so much fluidity with the roster,” he said. “If we find a group that is playing well, we stay with them. Jordan really had a great second half and finished the game strongly.”
Poole’s overall numbers were superb: 19 points (8-of-12 shooting from the floor, 3-of-7 from distance), three assists, two rebounds, one steal and one turnover in 23 minutes.
More impressive, though, was that he passed the eye test, an exam he has failed more often than not this season.
As opposed to those nights where he looked rushed or in over his head, Poole consistently moved about the court with a level of assertiveness necessary to make a difference in the NBA. Even his ball-handling was on point, putting defenders on their heels.
After eight ineffectual first-half minutes, Poole found something at halftime. There was barely a rumor of hesitancy, but he treated the second half, particularly the fourth quarter, as if it belonged to him.
That takes a certain amount of hubris.
It also suggests Poole, given his sidekicks, is at his best when he knows he must be.
Throughout what has been a challenging season, the 20-year-old University of Michigan product has deflected any questions remotely implying he was struggling.
The same applied to this game. Asked if his performance gave him a boost in confidence, Poole stayed with his customary reply, with a bit of a kicker: “I felt like I already had that … but it felt good.”
He had delivered the most impressive and efficient statistical line of his brief NBA career and, moreover, passed the eye test more decisively than at any time this season.
It’s too soon to know whether Poole’s performance, especially his work in the fourth quarter, can be considered a breakthrough. The Warriors, however, have faith in him. On this night, there were many moments when he looked like the player they hope he’ll become.