SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Coach Steve Kerr suddenly faces a playoff conundrum: start Stephen Curry again for Game 2 of the playoffs for Golden State and move Jordan Poole back to the bench or stick with what worked so well in the opener and be extra cautious with Curry.
“Yeah, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Kerr said, smiling.
Poole shined in his playoff debut with 30 points, staying in the starting lineup as Curry returned from a foot injury, and the Warriors smothered Nikola Jokic to beat the Denver Nuggets 123-107 on Saturday night in Game 1 of the first-round series.
For now, Curry sure had a blast watching Poole and Splash Brother Klay Thompson do their thing from the opening tip.
“I have no expectations on what’s next because we’re always trying to figure this out because this is kind of a tough situation to deal with in terms of the quick ramp up that I’ve had and this is a playoff-type intensity and atmosphere,” Curry said.
Healthy at last, Thompson returned to the playoff stage for the first time in nearly three years following two serious injuries and scored 19 points with five 3-pointers.
“Jordan Poole, wow, what a playoff debut,” Thompson said. “… He’s just incredible. What a star in the making.”
The perimeter combination of Curry, Poole and Thompson proved too much for the Nuggets — with Poole acknowledging “it’s pretty lethal.”
Jokic had 25 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, facing stifling defense in the paint from Draymond Green and Kevon Looney while shooting 12 for 25.
Jokic credited both of them for making his shots tough.
“They have the tools. I think I missed a couple of easy ones, but I think that they were defending me really well,” Jokic said. “So I need to be better. I just need to at least make the layups and easy shots.”
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night at Chase Center — which hosted its first playoff game since opening in fall 2019. Fans received black T-shirts reading “Gold Blooded.”
Curry came off the bench to contribute 16 points in 21 minutes after missing exactly a month with a sprained ligament in his left foot. The two-time MVP tested it in a scrimmage Thursday, came off the bench and had a minutes restriction. He checked in at the 5:58 mark of the first quarter to a rousing ovation.
Curry missed his first five shots before a layup that went in on a goaltending call against Aaron Gordon 1:14 before halftime, then knocked down a 3 from the top of the arc as the Warriors took a 58-47 lead at the break.
Golden State won its final five games to end the regular season and kept rolling.
“Give them credit. This is a very talented team with tremendous playoff experience. I think the key stretch was the end of the second quarter,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You don’t want to play from behind in this building against this team.”
Jokic averaged 28 points, 15.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the four matchups with the Warriors, three won by the Nuggets but only one by double digits. But Green hadn’t faced Denver this season, so his addition was huge.
“You feel it. He stepped it up a notch,” Poole said of Green. “Being our leader, we feed off his energy.”
Green hit a 3 from the top over Jokic with 1:47 left in the third, then the Nuggets star committed a turnover moments later as Gary Payton II capitalized with a basket that put Golden State up 89-68.
Green wound up with 12 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three blocked shots for a Warriors team that lost last year in the play-in round to Memphis and is back in the playoffs for the first time since losing the 2019 NBA Finals in six games to Toronto.
That was Thompson’s last playoff game, when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that required surgery before he tore his right Achilles tendon in November 2020 and had that repaired — costing him more than 2 1/2 years until he came back in January.
Gordon and Thompson were hit with double technicals at the 6:25 mark of the second.
“We can’t beat ourselves and the Warriors in the same game,” Malone said, “and we did that tonight.”
Poole warmed up in a T-shirt reading “Poole Party” then dazzled on the big postseason stage, shooting 9 for 13 with five 3s while starting in Curry’s place. He joined Wilt Chamberlain and Mitch Richmond as the only players in franchise history with 30 points in a postseason debut.
“He’s demonstrated he’s ready for pretty much any moment,” Curry said.
With 2:54 before halftime, Poole cut one way then the other through the key for a layup and got fouled by Will Barton and converted the three-point play. Poole hollered in celebration as Curry stared him down in delight.
“There’s no better feeling than having the guys behind you who have already been through the fight,” Poole said.
He made his first six shots and had 17 points by intermission.
Nuggets: DeMarcus Cousins was ejected with 10:28 left after back-to-back technicals. He had seven points and two rebounds against his former team. … Denver shot 11 for 35 from deep, Jokic missing his four 3-point tries.
Warriors: Looney, who played all 82 regular-season games, grabbed seven boards as the Warriors led on rebounds 41-35. … The Warriors went 6-6 down the stretch without Curry, winning their final five regular-season games.
By JANIE McCAULEY
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