Gary Payton II makes season debut, ready for playoff push


SAN FRANCISCO — With 26 seconds left in the first quarter Sunday night, Warriors coach Steve Kerr and associate head coach Kenny Atkinson were looking for Gary Payton II. He couldn’t be found on the bench, because he was getting his legs warm on an exercise bike in a nearby tunnel.

Kerr wanted to use him a little earlier than scheduled because they needed a defensive stop to end the quarter. He’s got his guy back. So does Dub Nation.

Payton got a huge standing ovation as he entered the game for the first time at Chase Center since Game 5 of the NBA Finals last year. GP2’s comeback was probably the highlight of the night for the Warriors, who threw away the game against Minnesota with two late turnovers in a 99-96 Timberwolves victory.

Payton said he appreciated the welcome he got from the fans.

“I already knew it was love, since I’ve been back from Dub Nation,” Payton said. “Just a nice welcome home. I mess with Dub Nation like that. It’s all love.”

In all, Payton logged 15 minutes, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 shooting, as he went 1-of-2 from distance and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. Payton also registered a rebound, an assist and a block on Karl-Anthony Towns, when he collapsed the lane on help defense and made a great play.

“I just felt like myself, moving around,” Payton said. “Do what I need to do.”

Payton was back to his old ways, often defending explosive Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards on defense while making some opportunistic buckets on offense, like the open 3-pointer he hit in the fourth quarter. Payton also scored a quick bucket in transition on an outlet pass from Steph Curry in the first half.

Payton played in two 7-8 minute spurts at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters and also played a defensive possession at the end of the game.

“Felt like I was out there shorter than I was,” Payton said. “Sixteen minutes - felt good though. It was a lot of gaps in there, so I was able to get my breath back after whistles and calls.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr alluded that the distribution of minutes among bench players and the backcourt would be different. Here’s how the playing time shook out Sunday night: Jordan Poole (31 minutes), Donte DiVincenzo (21 minutes), Anthony Lamb (18 minutes), Payton (15 minutes), Jonathan Kuminga (15 minutes) and JaMychal Green (4 minutes).

Payton said he loved to be paired up with DiVincenzo.

“We checked in for a second and he said, ‘What do you wanna do? Full court (defense)?’” Payton said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’  Just that energy alone right there. I already know what he’s on and he knows what I’m on. It’s not hard to get adjusted.”

His teammates loved having him back on the floor, too.

“He just brings a different element – obviously defensively – but he’s just so in sync with what we do,” Curry said.

Payton now has eight more games to get ready for the playoffs as the Warriors try to avoid the play-in tournament. Golden State (39-37) holds a slim 0.5-game lead over the Timberwolves (38-37) for the No. 6 seed in the West.

“It was great having Gary back,” Klay Thompson said. “I was really happy with the ovation he got because he earned it. He was a huge part of what we did last year and why we're the champs. And I know he will be again this year.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images