Gary Payton II Brings Immediate Impact to the Warriors in Return of the NBA Finals

SAN FRANCISCO – Gary Payton II didn’t need a pep talk or long conversation with his Hall of Fame dad about what to expect on the biggest stage of the NBA Finals. All he needed was for him to see what could also be categorized as “look” from The Glove.

You know it when you see it. It fits your heart with a very simple and important message: it’s time to go.

‘He was there in the corner with [Detlef┬áSchrempf]’ said Payton on Sunday night. He shook his head and said, “Yeah, I know what that means.”

“You know, go to work.”

That’s what Payton did the moment he walked onto the field with 5:30 left in the first quarter of Game 2 of the NBA Finals. His month-long comeback from a left elbow fracture was complete, and the 29-year-old was needed no more in the Blast Warriors 107-88 Beat the Celtics until the series reaches one win each.

Payton played 25 minutes in the win, the most Warriors players off the bench. He scored seven points to go with three rebounds and three assists, and was a perfect 3 for 3 off the field. But the first time he touched the ball, the Chase center held its collective breath.

A little over a minute and a half after entering the bout, Payton sprinted to the floor with an open lane and only Boston guard Jalen Brown was near him. At first glance, it looked like an easy throw or dip for the bouncy veteran. Instead, he flipped his body, Brown was called in for a foul and Payton fell on his injured left elbow.

After winning, though, he insisted the fall didn’t hurt and that his adrenaline overcame any kind of pain throughout the match.

“No, no,” Payton said. “I tried to roll as best I could.”

Then he missed his free throws, and you could have gone downhill from there. Payton could have lost faith in himself, and the same is true of Steve Kerr. The reality was far from that.

With the first quarter coming to a close, Steph Curry found Payton wide open in the left corner near the Celtics bench. The left did not hesitate at all. He was 6-for-8 from a long distance in the playoffs before regressing to injury.

Now, it’s 7 versus 9.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Payton said when asked about his shot.

It wasn’t a relief to see his first shot travel through the net, it’s no secret that Payton’s primary responsibility rests with the defence. There is no silver lining to the injury and the pain he had to put up with. However, due to his illness in the elbow rather than the knee, ankle or any other part of his lower body, Payton was able to do a lot of defensive work during rehab.

Over the past three weeks, Keir Payton has watched him race up and down the field. It’s seen him complete countless defensive slips, going one-on-one court without his left hand. It’s a testament to Payton’s desire to help his teammates chase the championship, and it’s a big reason Kerr feels comfortable giving him several minutes after not playing since May 3.

The conditioning was the least of the coach’s worries. However, even he hadn’t expected Payton’s first match to come back this far.

“He needed the extra few days to be really ready, and I thought it was cool,” Kerr said. “The level of defense, the physicality, the speed in the transition – it gives us a huge boost.”

Payton is listed at 6-foot-3, but his extraordinarily long wingspan allows him to guard multiple positions. He can lock up guards, wards and even attackers. When he first entered the game, that mirrored the entry of Celtics guard Derek White into Robert Williams’ third position. White didn’t score once in the first quarter, and his spin at the end of the period gave Steph Curry a one-point lead with just 1.5 seconds left in the frame.

White scored 21 points in Boston’s win in the first game. He scored 12 in Match 2 and was minus 17 in 30 minutes. Payton also had the task of trying to harass young Celtics star Jason Tatum, who is five inches taller than him. Tatum, after scoring just 12 points two nights ago, fell behind the Warriors by 28 points.

It was also low in the game minus 36.

On the flip side, Payton was plus 15. Not counting the game he was injured in, he’s now plus 36 in seven playoffs.

“He’s a guy who can defend multiple positions, he’s capable of…we are able to play small formations with him because he can bounce back very well,” said Kevon Looney of the Warriors. “It brings a different kind of energy. It’s transitional, it’s a fierce threat.

“We missed him in the last series and in the first game, so having him back there was great because he’s just a nuisance. You know, he plays really well outside of the game. It saves a lot of things that we don’t have.”

Related: Kerr: Steve is “breathtaking” as the Warriors run in the third quarter

Known for his early career dad more than his own skill set, Payton exited Oregon State in 2016. Prior to this season with the Warriors, he had never played more than 29 games in an NBA season. He’s starred in the G League, including 13 games recently last season. Payton has played only one pre-season game for the Warriors this season, their fourth game on their show roster, scoring 12 points with one rebounds, one stealing and one block in 11 minutes.

He still finished 15th and last in the Warriors list on the same day as the regular season opener.

Through all his battles, all his trials and tribulations, all his doubts – Peyton is home. Both here in the Bay Area with the Warriors, and in the Finals looking to prepare for the championship ring, something even the original Payton wasn’t able to pull off.