When Jordan Poole is making plays, he's one of the most electric players in the league. When he's making mistakes, he's one of the most frustrating. He makes more plays than mistakes. That's how he was a major part of a championship team. That's why the Warriors paid him $140 million last summer. That's why Steve Kerr is going to continue to trust him.
But to trust Poole with complete, clear-out control of a game-deciding possession, while Stephen Curry just hangs out in the corner, seems like a bit much. And it cost the Warriors dearly on Sunday in a brutal loss to the Timberwolves, who now control their own destiny to pass Golden State for the coveted No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, one spot above the play-in.
Under a minute to play. Golden State is up two, courtesy of a highly difficult, fading Poole 3 from the corner, with possession, courtesy of a scrappy Poole rebound. As Poole, who has been terrific in this game, just as he was on Friday when he torched the 76ers in the fourth quarter, walks it up, Curry jogs to the right corner. Klay Thompson occupies the left wing. Golden State's notorious off-ball movement has ground to a halt.
This, for better or worse, is Poole's possession, and he has a decision to make. Jack up any old shot under the guise of a 2-for-1 clock play, or work for a high-quality look, perhaps by getting downhill and putting the defenders of Thompson and/or Curry into an impossible help-or-not-help dilemma, knowing that one more bucket will all but seal a win for the Warriors.
Poole, as he too often does, opts for the former. He calls for a Kevon Looney ball screen, which nets a Rudy Gobert switch. It's a dream matchup. There is little chance Gobert can stay in front of Poole off the dribble, but instead of attacking that advantage, Poole, a 33% 3-point shooter, turns the odds against himself and, by extension, the Warriors with a 28-foot step-back with 38 seconds to play and eight seconds still left on the shot clock.
If you're justifying this shot with 2-for-1 logic, you're wrong. This isn't the time to play the clock. One more bucket, and the game is basically over. That second possession you've "earned" won't even matter. Poole is being trusted to make at least a game-defining decision, if not a season-defining one, while Curry, who remains the surest bet in the world to create a quality look out of pick and roll, is relegated to statue duty.
It almost serves the Warriors right that the next 38 seconds were a disaster.
Up one after a Gobert free throw, the Warriors, who were again haunted by turnovers in this game, flipped the ball around like it was a normal possession. Curry never should've given it up, let alone to Draymond Green via a 20-foot hook-shot pass.
Once Green had it, the Wolves obviously wanted to foul him. Green, of course, didn't want to be fouled. He tried to hot-potato a pass. Kyle Anderson stole it. Karl-Anthony Towns cashed a transition 3. Wolves up two in the blink of an eye.
All the Warriors had to do was hold the ball, and not pass to Draymond so they couldn’t foul him. Epic failure of situational basketball, but there’s time pic.twitter.com/D3c0jCgdVj— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) March 27, 2023
The Warriors had one more legitimate chance to tie or win the game, but Poole turned it over again.
Jordan Poole is going to get a lot of blame but what a denial from Mike Conley and Jaden McDaniels pic.twitter.com/IRcl7CXEQX— 𝓳𝓸𝓷𝓪𝓱 (@Huncho_Jman) March 27, 2023
That last turnover wasn't so much Poole's fault. The Timberwolves did an incredible job of denying Curry, both on the inbound pass and then once Poole had possession. But look at how sped up Poole is in that situation. He's a gyrating handler by nature, but this is pure panic. You can almost see the clock ticking in his head as he tries to force the ball to Curry, who should've been in control of this game two possessions earlier.
You can use all the galaxy-brain rationale you want -- the Wolves would've double teamed Curry, you might argue -- and you still won't come up with a good answer as to why the Warriors decided to put the game in the hands of Poole instead of Curry, who should've been on a dead sprint from the corner to the top to get the ball out of Poole's hands on that critical possession.
One could argue that Poole, even as well as he played, shouldn't even have been in the game down the stretch. Gary Payton II was fantastic in his return. It will be interesting to see what Kerr does with closing lineups once Payton isn't watching his minutes in the postseason.
Problem is, the Warriors have to make the postseason first. This was a huge loss. It sets up an even bigger game against New Orleans on Tuesday. If Golden State loses that one, all bets are off. The Warriors could honestly end up in the lottery, which is unfathomable for a team that returned the core of a roster that won the whole thing less than a year ago.
With that much on the line, Poole can't be the guy in control. He can be, and often is, a fantastic offensive player. There are many stretches of many games that the Warriors would be cooked without him.
And again, as Thompson said after the game when asked about his and the team's confidence in Poole, it gets lost how big a part Poole played in the Warriors winning the title last season. He's a high-wire act, no doubt, but he makes enough plays in enough big moments to warrant a fair amount of leeway. But in the end, how much trust is too much?