Gary Payton II was lurking like a free safety, taking a tip-off on a Klay Thompson-Malik Monk collision, making three dribbles to get down the field and beating the first-quarter buzzer to give the Warriors an eight-point lead over the Veterans. Kings.
Those six seconds Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center perfectly demonstrated the jolt that Gary Payton II often brings to the Warriors, and what they are sorely about to miss.
Payton suffered a tear in his right calf during the Warriors’ 124-123 loss in the NBA Championship and will be sidelined indefinitely, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Wednesday, citing sources. Payton grabbed the back of his right leg during the final minute of the third quarter and stumbled through the tunnel into the locker room.
The Warriors led 102-92 when Payton’s night ended, then outscored them 32-21 the rest of the night. His defense has been severely wasted, as will be the case at the moment. Several sequences showed what only Payton could do.
Take this play from the second quarter, for example. Payton got behind Kings goalkeeper Kevin Huerter perfectly, took his shot, caught the block and passed to Thompson, who scored from a corner kick on the other side.
Payton’s troubles showed up in the third quarter before his injury. This steal and subsequent f-1 are a stark example of who Payton is to the Warriors, and what many other teams missed by not grabbing him.
Payton, a 6-foot-2 senior, led the Warriors’ bench in rebounds with five, and also had two of the team’s six steals and one of his six blocks. On a night when Payton’s season was put on pause, Golden State was reminded just how important his availability is — a lesson it learned a season ago.
The Warriors, ranked ninth in the Western Conference standings with a 28-27 record on February 9, decided they had paid for their mistake in letting Payton go to Portland and brought him back in a four-team, four-player trade. It ended the era of James Wiseman. The Warriors decided at the time that they were all in for the moment, shipping their former No. 2 overall pick to Detroit even after learning Payton would miss the next 20 games due to injury.
Now, 18 games into the season, the Warriors find themselves in the same place they were last season without Payton — with an 8-10 record. The Warriors went 1-3 in the four games Payton didn’t play, and lost the two he left early with an injury. Conversely, they are 7-5 with Payton healthy for all four quarters.
Without him, or if Payton can’t finish the game, the Warriors are 1-5.
Draymond Green remains the anchor of the Warriors’ defense, although Payton brings rebounding to the unit like no other. Steve Kerr’s team doesn’t have another defender who stays in front of elite guards and scorers quite like Payton.
Devin Booker, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Williams and Malik Monk have all turned the ball over when guarding Payton this season. CJ McCollum shot 0 of 4 in nearly three minutes of Payton defending him, and Donovan Mitchell was 0 of 3 in more than two minutes. Payton has recorded a steal in 10 of the 14 games he has played in, has five multi-steal games, and has finished with three steals twice.
That Payton even took to Wednesday’s news on social media is an example of how he will be missed.
Moses Moody should walk right through an open door during Payton’s time away, as he did Tuesday night in Sacramento, when he scored 11 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-4 shooting – 3-of-3 from deep. Brandin Podzemski may get more opportunities as well. The rookie had a DNP (did not play) in the Warriors’ most recent loss, but his 100.0 defensive rating tops all Warriors who have played regular amounts of minutes. Payton and Moody come in second place, with each of them receiving a defensive rating of 104.2. Per NBA.com.
The Warriors have felt the pain of losing Payton in the past. They beat him in the 2022 playoffs and couldn’t last season. Therefore, the switch must be turned quickly so that they can climb the hill in this round.
Last year, Payton suffered injuries to his adductor muscle, left ankle and right knee — a big blow for a 30-year-old built explosively. The Warriors brought him home more than nine months ago, and it would hurt to watch him from afar for an indefinite period of time.
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