How Warriors' Eric Paschall learned a rookie lesson from James Harden

Logan Murdock
NBC Sports BayArea

HOUSTON -- Standing inside of San Francisco's Moscone Center, Warriors rookie Eric Paschall set a modest goal for himself entering his first season. 

"Just to be able to play, for me personally," he said. "But that's all it really is. Just being able to play and contribute."

That was two months ago, prior to a seminar to encourage kids to practice dental hygiene, before injuries to Golden State's core severely derailed its postseason chances. Now, with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and D'Angelo Russell out, Paschall has momentarily assumed the role of the team's emotional leader. 

His latest test came in the second quarter of Wednesday's 129-112 loss to Houston, when, after an and-1 on Rockets guard James Harden, the rookie forward walked to Golden State's bench and yelled, "He's food!" revealing his hype demeanor. 

"I've always been that type of way," Paschall admitted to NBC Sports Bay Area Wednesday evening. "Just talking. Not any type of way. Just talking trash or get myself going, get my teammates going." 

The sequenced capped an impressive week for the 23-year old. Entering Wednesday night, the rookie was averaging 29.5 points and eight rebounds over his last two games, temporarily offsetting injuries to Golden State's star-laden roster. 

"I would say he's one of the most mature rookies I've seen, to be honest," Former Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia said of Paschall on Warriors Postgame Live Wednesday evening.

Then, Harden and the Rockets responded with a 23-8 run to close the half, outscoring the Warriors 33-23 in the second quarter. By halftime, Harden had scored 20 of his game-high 36 points. Along the way, Paschall struggled for much of the night, finishing minus-11 for the night, a performance he doesn't attribute to his first-half actions.

"No, because I don't think he heard me," Paschall said. "So I don't think it changed anything."

"I don't know what happened," he added. "Just looked up and Harden was going off, so I can't really say much about that. He's a great player. Anything could have sparked it. He could have just sparked himself. He could have not heard it at all and just sparked himself. It is what it is."

Inquire about the last time Paschall's had to carry a similar load and he's quick to point to six months ago, when he was second on Villanova in scoring, averaging 16.5 points, adding six rebounds as the Wildcats went to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Dig further into Paschall's story back to Dobbs Ferry High School, when he averaged 26.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, leading the Eagles to the Section-1 Finals. Through it all, a consistent energetic play has followed. 

"If you don't feel like you're the best player on the court, you can't play like that," Paschall said. "You just have to have that mentality at all times. I feel like just talking in any type of way is really helpful. Just get yourself and your teammates going."

Now, Paschall is approaching a new challenge: Remaining great as teams are actively trying to take it away. In Wednesday's loss, the Rockets enlisted their best defender, P.J. Tucker, on the rookie and sent two extra players every time he drove to the lane, limiting Paschall to 19 points on just 6-of-15 shooting. The forward had his moments, including a baseline slam in the second quarter that put the Warriors up 46-42.

"I give him credit," Pachulia said, "but at the same time, understand that the better he plays, the more focus is going to be on him. He's going to face different challenges from game to game, and that's how it goes ... It's great for him to be dealing with this in his rookie year."

[RELATED: Warriors must bring life, energy to overcome]

Wednesday night was the latest example of Paschall's ascension. No longer the rookie simply fighting for minutes, a responsibility replaced by his new role as a team spokesman, which includes a plea for success going forward.  

"Keep the energy up. That's one thing I'm known for so I put responsibility on myself for that," he said. "So just keep the energy -- and keep having fun." 

How Warriors' Eric Paschall learned a rookie lesson from James Harden originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

What to Read Next