Steph Curry, Warriors' faith in Jordan Poole cemented in Nuggets series

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Steph knows JP 'built' for title grind, learned from Nuggets series originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Jordan Poole was a one-man wrecking crew during the first two games of the Warriors' first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, scoring 59 points as Golden State took a commanding series lead.

The third-year guard poured in 27 more points in Game 3, but he struggled in Game 4 and played just 25:41 in Wednesday's Game 5. Poole got into foul trouble early and never found a rhythm, scoring only eight points and barely seeing the floor during the fourth quarter as the Warriors claimed a 102-98 win to eliminate the Nuggets.

Struggles are normal for young players during their NBA playoff introduction. It's uncommon for a young player to score 27 points or more in his first three playoff games and look generally unfazed. Poole's struggles are nothing that concerns the Warriors as they prepare to face either the Memphis Grizzlies or Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference semifinals.

Steph Curry, who returned to the starting lineup in Game 5 alongside Poole in Golden State's backcourt, knows his protégé got a valuable introduction to postseason basketball with the highs of the first three games and the struggles of Games 4 and 5.

"I think [Andrew Wiggins] said it yesterday, you put your ego aside and understand things change really quickly," Curry said after the win when asked what he would tell Poole after a tough Game 5. "But we need everybody. We need everybody to have an impact, and when you're out there on the floor, be locked in.

"So for JP, like it's the playoff experience of understanding he really helped us get off to a great start in this series, and we needed every bit of his energy and his offense those first two games, three games, really. These last two, I'm just proud of the way he's competed on the defensive end, took that big charge on Bones [Hyland] down the stretch in the second quarter. Like found a way to be impactful.

"And then the lessons you need to learn in terms of fouling and game plan stuff, that's the evolution of that playoff experience. So like I said, we've been saying this all year, he's built for this. He understands who he is and what he provides for us, and Game 1, next series, you start it all over again."

With Curry returning to the starting lineup Wednesday, coach Steve Kerr opted to start the Warriors' new Death Lineup. That lineup eviscerated the Nuggets in Games 1 and 2, but the effectiveness, especially defensively, waned over the final three games. Kerr went small with the plan to tire out Nuggets star center Nikola Jokić early on. But Denver punished the Warriors inside, and Poole went to the bench early with foul trouble.

The Warriors remain confident in the unnamed small-ball lineup, whether it's the starting group in Round 2 or a situational weapon Kerr utilizes to change the tenor of certain games as it did in the first two wins vs. the Nuggets.

"I think it will depend on matchups," Klay Thompson said Wednesday about the lineup's overall effectiveness. "But I thought it went well. I mean, they guarded Jordan so close to his chest tonight. He was in foul trouble, unfortunately. But still so effective out there, and when he has the ball in his hands, he's so dynamic that he draws a lot of attention, and it frees up me, Steph, and same with Andrew, just being able to space the floor out and crash the rim, whether it's a cut or an offensive put-back.

"But that lineup has great versatility, and it will probably be used a lot for the future."

RELATED: Steph saves best for last in eliminating Nuggets

After two years away from the playoff spotlight, the Warriors dug deep in the second half Wednesday night, erasing an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to send the Nuggets packing.

They did so with Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, and Gary Payton II shouldering a heavy load as Poole watched from the bench. That says more about Golden State's depth and trust in guys like Payton than it does Poole.

The Warriors know JP will play a key role in the battles to come. His first foray into postseason basketball only hardened their belief that he's "built" to be one of them.

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