NBA Finals 2022: Warriors get a huge boost from Gary Payton II, whose return could legitimately rock this series

NBA Finals 2022: Warriors get a huge boost from Gary Payton II, whose return could legitimately rock this series

The Warriors tried a lot of different things in their 107-88 Game 2 win over the Celtics on Sunday. They pressed harder on shooters, especially Al Horford and Marcus Smart, who both dared to make open 3s in game 1, which they did to the tune of a combined 10-for-15 clip. They had Klay Thompson face off with bigs, freeing up Draymond Green to get more in the line of fire defending the Boston stars.

But the most encouraging development for the Warriors on Sunday was play by Gary Payton II, who after not seeing the ground in Game 1 finished Game 2 with seven points, three assists and three rebounds on a 3-for-1 shot. 3. He was a plus-15 in 25 significant minutes.

Payton hasn’t played since fracturing his elbow in Game 2 of the conference semifinals against Memphis, and Steve Kerr didn’t think he was ready to play Game 1. percent, he has shown that he is, without a doubt, healthy enough to play a major role in the upcoming rotation.

“I feel normal, back to myself,” Payton said. “I’m not worried about the elbow. It’s fine.”

It’s hard to overstate what having a (rather) healthy Payton means for Golden State. His return could tip this series, so balanced, in favor of the Warriors. Its impact is so significant. Anyone who’s watched the Warriors and Payton play this season knows that’s no exaggeration. His energy, ball pressure, ability to run and cut in open space and function as a short playmaker (all things he displayed on Sunday) make the Warriors a more dynamic and athletic team. .

Game-wise, Payton gives Golden State another elite defenseman for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Payton doesn’t have the size of Draymond Green or Andrew Wiggins, and Tatum has indeed been able to hit hard jumpers on him, but you won’t get anything easy on Payton. Golden State will gladly allow Tatum to take as many of these shots as his heart desires:

“I thought he was brilliant,” Kerr said of Payton. “The level of defence, the physique and the speed of transition, that gives us a huge boost.”

Jordan Poole has become an enigma in this series. He was a turnstile in defense in Game 1 and not much better in attack. Payton gives Kerr an alternative to Poole, and indeed, Payton skipped Poole in the rotation in the second half on Sunday. Poole held off for most of the third quarter, when Golden State, perhaps not coincidentally, turned a two-point lead into a 23-point lead and I guess Payton would have been in the closing lineup against Poole if the match had been tight. on the section.

Again, this changes the equation for the rest of this series. Payton in the closing lineup on Poole leaves the Celtics with just one defender to chase Curry, and we’re going to have to stop with this dialogue that Curry is kind of a weak link. He is small, yes, but he is a good defender. You’re not going to have cakewalk buckets on him.

Even when Poole plays, Payton provides perimeter support. In Game 1, Poole entered the game for Draymond. Trading the team’s best defenseman for its worst is a bright red hunting license for Boston. In Game 2, Payton came on alongside Poole and Green stayed on the pitch as well. This keeps Golden State’s defense in the fight.

Payton and Green can be a menacing duo. Watch here as Payton invades Tatum before Green flies in for the change, a dose of team pressure that leads to a turnover and Curry 3 on the other end.

Payton’s most crucial stretch came in the second quarter. After the Warriors managed just four runs in minutes without Curry, Poole being the sole creator, Payton substituted at 6:57 with Golden State down five. They immediately went on a 10-0 run, which included the sequence above as well as the one below, where Payton runs the floor and sets up in space along the baseline.

These types of buckets are huge. Boston’s half-court defense is a nightmare to score against. Golden State wants to get as many transition opportunities as possible. Rotations create those opportunities, and Payton creates rotations. Prior to his injury, the Warriors were generating 3.3 extra rotations per 100 possessions with Payton on the ground.

In total, the Celtics committed six turnovers during Payton’s first half minutes. It only caused one directly, but some of its effects, even a large part of it, are intangible. Payton, like Green, ignites Golden State’s defense solely on his presence. Here he blocks Brown and forces an errant pass.

The good thing about Payton’s injury is that it wasn’t an area that kept him from conditioning. Kerr told reporters that Payton was on the court three weeks ago “going through intense defensive slides and sprints and full one-on-one pitch without using his left arm,” and you saw that level of conditioning by immediately giving him 25 minutes of action, above his pre-injury playoff average.

What worried Kerr was whether Payton would be able to extend his left arm to shoot. It didn’t look great when Payton saved two free throws, but then buried a corner 3, which is such a vital shot in Golden State’s offense not only to maintain reasonable spacing, but to making Boston pay when it inevitably collapses on Curry, like here:

“I know it was tough for him, to miss the first two free throws, and to step in after that and knock down those three, having very few basketball shooting reps since that Memphis streak, just shows who he is,” Green said of Payton. “That’s what he’s here for, though. Most guys can’t step into this situation, but GP he’s tough and he’s built the right way and he stepped up and he gave us some good minutes tonight.”

Good minutes might be an understatement. I would call them great. And going forward, there will be plenty more available for Payton to leave his mark on this series.

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