These NBA Finals might not be decided by the most identifiable X-factors, Jordan Poole for the Warriors and Derrick White for the Celtics, but the dramatic difference between the two was a hugely significant factor Thursday night in Game 1.S
Poole, by turns dazzling and artless in his first NBA postseason, submitted a performance he surely wishes to forget: Nine points, 2-of-7 shooting from the field, including 1-of-5 from deep, two assists, two rebounds — and a team-high four turnovers.
Over 25 minutes, Poole was a team-worst minus-19.
White has been so inconsistent this postseason that there were times when he was almost unplayable. And at other times, he was terrific – as was the case in Game 1. He scored 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 beyond the arc, with three assists and two turnovers. In 32 minutes, he was plus-25, best among the Celtics.
It’s White’s five 3-pointers, along with six triples by veteran big man Al Horford, that severely damaged the hopes of the Warriors.
“It’s going to be tough to beat Boston,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “if they are making 21 3s and they are getting combined 11 from Horford and White.”
The contrast between Poole and White was starkly evident in the fourth quarter, when the Celtics outscored the Golden State 40-16, wiping out a 12-point deficit and snagging a 120-108 victory at Chase Center.
Poole was minus-16, White plus-27.
“We had a couple turnovers, a couple bad possessions offensively,” Kerr said. “And they just pounced.”
There were back-to-back questionable shots to open the fourth quarter, the first by Klay Thompson and the second by Poole. Both missed. And when Poole threw away a pass that turned into a Jaylen Brown steal and feed to Payton Pritchard for a layup, pulling Boston within five (92-87) with 9:35 left, Kerr called timeout and replaced Poole with Stephen Curry — who normally sits for the first five or six minutes of the fourth.
Kerr sensed the game could slip away, and his instincts were accurate. Boston racked up 37 points in the first 10:16 of the quarter, with Kerr surrendering and summoning the reserves less than a minute later.
One of the reasons Poole is an X-factor is that he typically is such a weak defender — this game was no different — that he absolutely has to ignite offense, either by scoring or playmaking, to make a positive impact. When he’s at this best, the offense hums and everybody on the floor benefits.
That’s what White at times did for Boston.
But Poole was a positive factor only in the third quarter, scoring seven points on 1-of-2 shooting from distance and going 4-of-4 from the line. He was plus-3 in six minutes. As Golden State’s offensive centerpiece when Curry is resting, Poole will need more such segments to be of any assistance to his teammates.
“It’s his first Finals game, and there’s a lot of adrenaline, a lot of nerves and all that,” Curry said. “But he’ll settle in.
“And we all will play better in Game 2.”
If Poole and a couple of his veteran teammates, Draymond Green and Thompson in particular, aren’t appreciably better in Game 2 on Sunday, it’s conceivable the Warriors could fall into a 0-2 predicament. At which point a measure of desperation could appear.
There is no doubt the Warriors’ mature core – Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Curry and Thompson – will need their younger teammates to carry more of the weight against the younger, bouncier Celtics.
Among the baby Dubs, efficiency and production from Poole in this series is Priority One. It’s almost essential — particularly if White is punishing the Warriors.