As is the case with each NBA season, unforeseen situations create opportunities for little-known players to become household names. Few players took advantage of that chance as effectively as Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole has in 2021-22. Carrying a combination of already-elite shot making abilities and the confidence to boot, Poole has become a breakout star.
Despite that, on a recent edition of The Colin Cowherd Podcast, Cowherd joined Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard to discuss Lillard’s 61-point game against the Warriors in January of 2020, a moment in which Poole’s confidence and trash talking proved costly.
Lillard, another player known for the little-known, underdog aura, was like most in saying he hadn’t paid a ton of attention to Poole at the start of his career. But in that Martin Luther King Day duel on Jan. 20, Poole would ensure he wouldn’t be forgotten by the six-time All-Star thereafter.
The precursor to that came in a Nov. 19 game, a 127-118 win for the shorthanded-but-gritty Warriors. As Lillard recalls:
“I wouldn’t say I was caught off guard, because I really didn’t pay attention to him until maybe like two years ago. We played against Golden State and (Stephen Curry) was hurt, Draymond (Green) was hurt. We was playing against them and he wasn’t playing a lot of minutes, but he like did a move, and he like scored on me. He hit a shot, he hit a three, and he started talking (expletive). And I was like, ‘I don’t talk (expletive). I don’t say nothing, I don’t play. If somebody say something to me, I’ll say something back, but whatever.
He said something, so, I kind of looked back, like what? We keep playing or whatever and they had a bunch of young dudes, they was high energy, they had it going that night. You know, when you run into one of those young teams that just got it going that night. I think I had like 40 (he had 39), but we lost at Golden State. Towards the end of the first half or whatever, I’m at the free throw line, and he’s just back there talking. So I turn to him, and I’m like, ‘Man, shut the (expletive), like shut up. He was like, ‘Make me.’ So, my natural instinct was like, ‘Bro, I train in combat. I’m from Oakland. That was my natural. So, we start going back-and-forth.”
76 days had passed since that first Blazers-Warriors meeting before the adversaries met again, but it didn’t even take Poole a quarter to get Lillard going. Lillard shared his side of that story as well:
“And then like shortly after, we played them on MLK Day. And he was on the bench, and I started the game real slow. He’s on the bench and he says, ‘Oh, he ain’t on (expletive) tonight.’ Draymond is sitting next to him, and me and Draymond is real cool. In that game, I end up scoring 61, and we beat them in Portland, and I just remember telling Draymond, ‘Man, I don’t mess with that dude like that, like I don’t like him.
But then from those interactions, I paid more attention to him, and as I paid more attention to him, I started to notice his game more, like, ‘Oh, he’s actually got something to him.’ And he’s got confidence about him. So I can’t say he caught me by surprise, but it is impressive to see the growth that I think, coming under Draymond and Steph, and Klay (Thompson), you can definitely see the impact that they’ve had on him.”
In total, Lillard tallied in 61 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on 17-of-37 shooting from the field, 11-of-20 from 3-point range, and a perfect 16-of-16 from the charity stripe, a high point in that historic scoring streak during his 2019-20 season.