Gary Payton II shines in Warriors' grimy series-clinching win over Nuggets

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GP2 shines in Warriors' series-clinching win over Nuggets originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO – The Warriors wasted no time in Game 5. Seeking to lay waste to the Denver Nuggets and advance to the Western Conference semifinals, coach Steve Kerr opened with his five best players, the flashy lineup in search of a catchy nickname.

In the end, though, Kerr turned to a reserve guard/forward with a relatively new nickname to give the Warriors what they had been missing.

Young Glove, born Gary Payton II.

With apologies to the aesthetically pleasing starters – Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green – the Warriors needed grit, and GP2 specializes in it. He brought his usual disruptive defense, but he also provided some very necessary offense that caught the Nuggets by surprise.

Indeed, Payton’s pesky presence and impact were the essences of a series-clinching 102-98 victory Wednesday night at Chase Center

“He showed everything in his bag,” Thompson said.

“His defense in the fourth quarter was fantastic,” Kerr said. “That's why I stayed with him. But then he started knocking down 3s and getting to the rim for a couple layups. He was just a huge factor in the game, and he deserved to stay out there with the way he was playing. So, we kept him out there the whole fourth, and he came through big time.”

Playing all but two seconds of the fourth quarter, which began with the Warriors trailing by eight, Payton made all four of his field-goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers. He had three assists. A steal. He was plus-10 for his duty.

“He was incredible,” Green said. “Both ends of the floor. Big shots. Big plays. Two huge 3s. He was absolutely incredible.”

Payton finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-4 beyond the arc, three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. His layup with 2:10 remaining gave the Warriors the lead for good. His 3-ball with 1:06 left put them up 97-92, finally giving the sellout crowd (18,064) license to exhale and release their joy.

For the Warriors had not, putting it politely, played well. They were getting pushed around and their response was a pattern of soft fouls that sent various Nuggets to the free throw line. Denver shot 20 free throws in the first half. Golden State also was getting clobbered on the glass (46-27 through three quarters).

“What he gives us on defense is amazing already,” Curry said. “And then when you put teams in different positions on offense, when they are defending us, and he's kind of roaming all over the place and using his quickness to his advantage, it's pretty impactful.”

Payton’s composure was no less impressive than his contribution. There was no sign of anxiety or anything else that indicated this was his NBA postseason debut. It’s one of the factors that allowed Kerr to stay with him as the game was being decided down the stretch.

This was the kid whose lineage is rooted in local soil. Oakland. His father, Gary Payton, The Glove, is went from Skyline High School to Oregon State to the NBA and into the Hall of Fame; he was among the spectators at Chase. His late grandfather, Al Payton, was a coach.

“It's just basketball,” GP2 said. “We’re just playing basketball, and I'm going to go out there and play the right way, try to play the smartest way and I know. The confidence in my game and my IQ, big moments, it's just basketball, come in and get stops and go the other way and make plays.
“So, it's really not like jitters or nervousness, nothing. Just playing basketball with great players.”

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Payton’s journey no doubt prepared him for whatever comes his way. He’s 29. He has been waived five different times by four different NBA teams – including Golden State. He simply never quit on his dream of playing in the league. Like his dad.

In less than seven months, GP2 has gone from earning the final roster spot in training camp to proving his mettle in the regular season to central figure in the closeout game of Golden State’s first playoff series win since 2019.

“He doesn't seem too fazed by anything,” Kerr said. “I guess when you've bounced around like he has, been in the G-League, played on 10-day contracts, never really found a home, there's a lot more pressure in that than there is in playing in a high-stakes game.

“He's found a home here. He's always seemed comfortable on the floor. Never seems overwhelmed. His defense is elite and he's a very unique offensive player. But he's worked so hard on his three-point shot, and I think that was really a big factor in his growth this year and his ability to stick and make a big impact for our team.”

It’s conceivable that the Warriors lose this game without GP2. It’s undeniable that they won it largely because of him. This was his kind of game, and they’re fortunate to that he’s available to fit right in.