Thompson: It’s been constructing, and now Jordan Poole and Ja Morant are totally linked on this sequence

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Jordan Poole smiled as he stared down on the iPhone 13 Professional Max in his hand. A sarcastic smile, as if he knew this was going to grow to be the following assault on him.

He watched the video of the play halfway by way of the fourth quarter when Memphis was intimating he deliberately tried to harm Grizzlies star Ja Morant. He watched the slow-motion replay of the play the place he and Andrew Wiggins trapped Morant, with Poole swiping and hitting the ball, then reaching once more and grabbing Morant’s proper knee. It confirmed him pulling Morant’s knee towards him along with his proper hand whereas pushing Morant along with his left.

“Yeah, it was a basketball play once we doubled him,” Poole mentioned after seeing it, “and I hit the ball and I used to be going for the ball. I imply, clearly, you don’t need to see anyone get harm. I’m not even that kind of participant. I respect everyone. … Hopefully, he will get higher, and we are able to see him on the market subsequent recreation. I don’t even play like that, for actual. That’s not my kind of recreation.”

Possibly Morant tweaked his knee when he planted on the entice. Possibly Morant harm his knee earlier within the third quarter on a lunging contest on a Klay Thompson 3-pointer. Regardless of the case, Poole and Morant are actually intrinsically linked on this Western Convention second-round sequence, which the Warriors lead, 2-1, after Saturday’s 142-112 win at Chase Middle. Morant started the hyperlink by attacking Poole relentlessly down the stretch of Recreation 2 and made Poole fall like he was praise dancing. And Poole responded — as you knew he would — by going proper again at Morant in Recreation 3.

All of it turned up one other notch when Morant limped off the court docket. He seemed dejected as he tore the cushion off the seat subsequent to him and slammed it in frustration. He seemed in nice ache because the athletic coach prodded his proper knee. It’s the identical knee that saved him out of 9 video games down the stretch. Then Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins mentioned he was “curious” about what Poole was doing. Then Morant tweeted “broke the code” above the video Poole watched, a reference to Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s rivalry that Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks “broke the code” when he hit Gary Payton II within the head from behind on a quick break.

Now it’s a full-blown controversy with Poole and Morant on the middle.

“That’s playoff discuss,” Thompson mentioned. “Me, personally, I’ve been by way of a troublesome knee harm, and I don’t assume there’s any malicious intent from Jordan. I don’t even assume he’s sturdy sufficient to have an effect on someone’s knee. However we’re not on the market attempting to harm individuals or attempting to membership individuals behind the top on a quick break. We play the sport the suitable approach, and I’m going to have his again. He’s not out to — no.”

From what we all know of Poole, he definitely doesn’t need Morant out of the sequence. He needs the measuring stick of Morant’s greatness.

Poole sat for 3 days whereas the main focus of the sequence shifted to his protection, or lack thereof. The highlights and memes received good run out of Morant dropping Poole, one among his many jaw-dropping performs as he scored 47 factors in Recreation 2.

“It’s basketball,” Poole mentioned. “We go on the market. We play exhausting. We compete. These are the perfect gamers on the earth, you already know what I’m saying? So simply going on the market, simply enjoying exhausting, keep on with our recreation plan, shrug it off, hold pushing, come again the following day, go to the drafting board and simply attempt to get higher.”

His try at humility apart, Poole — who’s however two months older than Morant and was taken 26 picks after the Grizzlies star within the 2019 NBA Draft — was merely not going to let that be the tip of the story. Poole made it right here, from the bust label chasing him again in 2019 to a necessary member of a championship run as a result of believes he belongs among the many greats. He isn’t stopping Morant, who scored 34 factors on 13-of-21 capturing with seven assists. However Poole was bent on proving that Morant had no likelihood of stopping him. Nobody on the Grizzlies fared properly Saturday.

Poole is enemy No. 2 now in Memphis. Possibly he even handed Draymond Inexperienced now that he’s being blamed for injuring Morant. Some in Grizzlies nation had been already hoping Poole can be suspended for Recreation 3 for strolling on the court docket when Payton went down. Now, there will definitely be wails for him to be ousted for Recreation 4.

It makes good sense, too, as a result of Poole is an enormous drawback for the Grizzlies. And he’s the Warriors’ main possibility for making Morant work on protection.

The Warriors had weathered Memphis’ scorching begin and had taken a lead within the second quarter. Morant, the Grizzlies’ unstoppable third-year guard, checked again into the sport with 9 minutes, 36 seconds left within the first half. In Recreation 1, Morant ended his relaxation with 5:38 left within the second quarter. He returned on the 7:40 mark in Recreation 2. However the Warriors had run off eight straight factors, sparked by a Thompson 3-point play. The Grizzlies’ lead, as soon as at 13 factors, was a six-point deficit some 9 minutes later. So even with Warriors star guard Stephen Curry nonetheless on the bench, Morant returned to proper the ship.

However this portion of the sport belongs to Poole. When Curry sits to begin the second and fourth quarters, the offense belongs to the Warriors’ third-year guard for six or so minutes. And he welcomed Morant to the Poole social gathering by pulling him out to the deep finish.

Morant arrange De’Anthony Melton for a layup. Poole responded by looking Morant, calling for a display screen to get the face of the Grizzlies to defend him. And Poole went straight at him, utilizing a hesitation and a step-back to get to a pull-up baseline jumper. The following time, he known as out Morant once more, this time going to work from the highest and drilling a pull-up over Morant on the free-throw line.

The Warriors outscored the Grizzlies by 10 factors within the minutes whereas Curry sat within the second quarter. The sport modified with Poole going at Morant and placing fixed strain on the Memphis protection. The Warriors are plus-26 within the non-Curry minutes on this sequence.

Like each protection, the Grizzles are targeted on taking Curry away. With Brooks ejected in Recreation 2 and suspended for Recreation 3, the Grizzlies have turned to Melton and rookie Ziaire Williams to basically face-guard Curry and stop his open appears to be like. Backing them up is a Grizzlies large — whether or not Jaren Jackson Jr. or Wayne Willman or Brandon Clarke — ready with the assistance if Curry makes a transfer.

However Poole provides the Warriors one other participant who can assault, one other participant who can run the pick-and-roll and even go to isolation. And with Thompson on the court docket with him, and the eye Curry attracts, Poole has room to work. He can pull out his assortment of crossovers and hesitation strikes to get the place he must go. He’s no Morant across the rim, however Poole’s layup package deal is chilly in its personal proper.

“Jordan, simply our capability to area the ground and get him going downhill,” Kerr mentioned. “What he’s added to our crew is so vital. We’re capable of put Steph on the bench and I’d say for the sequence, we’re most likely successful the non-Steph minutes, which is an enormous deal for us. As a result of for a very long time, that’s been a problem.”

However what impressed Poole’s teammates was how he competed on protection. Inexperienced and a few veterans instructed Poole they wanted extra from him on the defensive finish. They wanted him to compete. If which means getting beat, so be it. If which means ending up in a Morant spotlight, so be it.

“It’s going to maintain occurring,” mentioned Curry, who is aware of one thing about being the goal of the protection. “Whether or not it’s me, him, whoever. That’s the character of the playoffs. However you simply must take that problem critically. You need to have some pleasure round it, figuring out that they’re attempting to place you within the actions for a motive. That doesn’t imply you’re going to get a cease each time.

“It simply means you probably did your job. First level of assault, be bodily, don’t have any breakdowns. Whether or not they rating or not, you simply try to make them earn it and clearly not foul. I believe he made the suitable changes and received to maintain doing it as a result of when playoff basketball slows down, these matchups matter. And when you do your job on the ball, you’ve gotten assist behind you. Extra occasions than not, you’ll be in a very good place.”

The controversial play that may dominate the speak about this sequence was a product of Poole competing on the defensive finish. It isn’t the perfect search for Poole. He’ll be the focal point once more on the off days between video games, particularly if Morant misses any time.

However we all know Poole. We all know how he’s constructed and what he’s about. He needs Morant on the court docket. He needs to go proper again on the famous person. As a result of that’s how he exhibits he belongs on this stage.

(Photograph of Jordan Poole: Jeff Chiu / Related Press)

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