Thursday, June 30, 2022

NBA Finals: Gary Payton says Warriors need to play Gary Payton II in Game 2, and he might get his wish

The Golden State Warriors and their fans are still feeling the shock of the fourth-quarter blitz the Boston Celtics dropped on them in Thursday’s 120-108 loss in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals. Boston outscored the Warriors 40-16 in the final frame, while knocking down an NBA-record nine 3-pointers.

The Warriors’ defense was solid for most of the night — particularly on Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who was held to 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting — but the fourth-quarter barrage was as much a product of Golden State’s poor defense as it was hot shooting from Boston. Celtics wing Jaylen Brown was able to penetrate into the lane, causing the defense to collapse and creating open shots.

Hall of Famer and NBA 75th Anniversary Team member Gary Payton, who spoke with CBS Sports on Friday in a video interview, has a pretty clear idea of how the Warriors can fix their defensive issues for Sunday’s Game 2: Play his son, Gary Payton II. The younger Payton has been a defensive stalwart for the Warriors all season, and he was listed as available for Game 1 for the first time since fracturing his left elbow early in the Western Conference semifinals. Despite his availability, Payton II didn’t enter Thursday’s opener, which confused his father.

“They shouldn’t put out that he’s available. If you don’t think he’s ready, then don’t put out ‘available,’ Just put him in street clothes,” Payton told CBS sports. “Why have him suit up? I don’t get that one. That’s a mystery to me, but that’s their decision.

“… I’m glad he’s given an opportunity and a chance to get on that stage. Now the opportunity is for the Golden State Warriors coaching staff to make a decision to put him in the game. They’ve only got a couple left. Just put him in. … He’s been doing it for you all year.”  

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on Saturday that he and the training staff didn’t feel comfortable with Payton II playing extended minutes in Game 1 at this stage in his recovery. If a situation arose where the Warriors needed a defensive stop, Kerr might have turned to Payton II, but things didn’t work out that way. For Game 2, however, Kerr said he expects Payton II to be available for more playing time while adding “he’s feeling better.”

The elder Payton has plenty of experience in the NBA Finals. His Seattle SuperSonics took Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six games in the 1996 Finals, and he won a championship as a 37-year-old with the Miami Heat in 2006. A former Defensive Player of the Year, Payton thinks his son can play a significant role in limiting the Celtics’ offense.

“[Payton II] could have an impact like what [Marcus] Smart did when he banged on [Stephen] Curry. He tried to take Curry out of his game, that’s what he did. He started putting more pressure on him. I think you’ve got to put more pressure on Brown, Tatum,” Payton told CBS Sports. “You’ve got to get Brown to stop penetrating and doing the things he’s gonna do. You got to put somebody on there.”

Payton II had become an essential part of the Warriors’ rotation this postseason, earning a starting role in the first two games of the Memphis Grizzlies series, but got injured after a hard fall that drew a flagrant foul on Dillon Brooks in Game 2. The play earned Brooks an ejection and a one-game suspension, while also creating a discourse about whether it was dirty. Kerr stoked the flames of controversy after the game by saying Brooks “broke the code” with the hard foul. The elder Payton, who thrived in the gritty, physical basketball of the 1990s and early 2000s, doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s a basketball play. People gotta relax. It’s just basketball, you know what I’m saying? He didn’t go out and say, ‘I’m about to hurt him.’ Didn’t do that.” Payton told CBS Sports. “Now it would have been a different story if he would have pushed him out of the middle of the air, and made it obvious that he was trying to hurt him. The young kid was trying to make a basketball play. He messed up and jumped to late, hit my son in the head. And what people don’t understand, my son didn’t land right. He just didn’t land right. It was just a freak accident.”

Even if his elbow isn’t fully healed, Payton II should be able to make a significant defensive impact. But offensively, especially with the Celtics likely to sag off of him, he needs to be able to make them pay. Payton II developed into a 39 percent corner 3-point shooter this season and is 4-6 from the corners this postseason. He has to be able to knock those down, and it may be tough if his shooting elbow isn’t quite right yet.

Whether Payton II’s elbow is fully healed or not, it certainly sounds like there’s a good shot we’ll see him in Game 2, and he’ll be a welcome addition to a Golden State roster facing what amounts to a must-win game on Sunday.

“The fact that he’s available, I know he has to be ready because his number could be called at any moment,” Curry said of Payton II on Saturday. “He has to go be the GP that we know him to be. He can affect this series that same way. Guarding Jaylen, guarding Jayson, guarding Marcus, guarding whoever he’s asked to guard and giving us a huge boost of energy, because that’s what he does.”

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