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GP2 perfect symbol of Warriors' surprising resurgence

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SAN FRANCISCO -- In the paint, he’s the little guy whose gumption is as big as his bounce, soaring for dunks and rebounds. On the perimeter, he’s defending with shaver-to-cheek closeness and maybe dropping in a couple corner 3-pointers.

During timeouts, he’s giving a pep talk or listening to advice.

Gary Payton II, a 6-foot-2 guard, is as omnipresent as he is irrepressible, and nobody on the roster better symbolizes this surprisingly resurgent Warriors season.

“I’m just doing whatever I can, for however long it is, to help my team,” he said late Friday night, after the Warriors laid a 118-96 beating on the Phoenix Suns.

Such is the pervasive attitude of the roster. It’s also the only attitude Payton knows. He has spent five years trying to find an NBA team that values him enough to keep him around, from the Houston Rockets to the Milwaukee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers to the Portland Trail Blazers to the Washington Wizards and, finally, to the Warriors seven months ago.

There was a 10-day contract in early April, followed by another in mid-April, then a contract that carried him through the end of last season. Payton played with Golden State’s Summer League squads in Sacramento and Las Vegas, shined in training camp, was waived four days before the season started – only to be re-signed a few hours before tipoff on opening night.

 

After going through all of that, he’s doing whatever it takes to keep a job in the league.

“When (Warriors coach Steve Kerr) calls me, I go, and when he pulls me out, I come out,” Payton said. “When I go in, I try to turn it on, make plays for my team, cause havoc and do what I do – and not foul. I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”

And now Payton is on a path that in many ways parallels that of the Warriors.

Projected to be in the Western Conference playoff race; they’re sitting atop the entire NBA. GP2 was projected to be the last addition to the Golden State roster – assuming he passed through waivers – and now he’s an essential member of the rotation.

“He’s so dynamic defensively,”  Kerr said. “And when he’s scoring as well – he made a few 3s tonight but also scored around the basket as he does – it’s hard to take him off the floor because of what he does for us.

“He’s really earned all these minutes. He’s earned his spot in the rotation and there’s no reason why he won’t continue to play quite a bit.”

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Payton played 27 minutes against Phoenix, scoring a season-high 19 points, on 7-of-9 shooting, adding five rebounds, one steal and one block. In addition to his nightly dunk, he buried three of the five 3-pointers he hoisted. The defensive ace brought his offense.

Bringing a little bit of this and a lot of that is what keeps guys like GP2 and Juan Toscano-Anderson – who had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting – in the league. And they know it. After playing sparingly, if at all, in the first five games of the season, Payton II is averaging 18 minutes per game over the last 15.

Golden State has a veritable kennel of Bench Dawgs, but GP2 is the most disruptive of all.

“They just played hard, that’s what they do,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Payton hit a couple of shots, but his effect on the game is the energy and the defense. They know their roles.”

GP2 might be overachieving, as might the Warriors. But they are a league-best 19-3 after evening the season series with the Phoenix Suns and snapping their 18-game win streak.

With star shooting guard Devin Booker out of the lineup with a hamstring strain, the Suns were going only as far as their leader, future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, could take them. CP3 was fairly vaporized, mostly by a combination of Andrew Wiggins and GP2.

 

“We had some ill-advised turnovers, and they made some shots,” Paul said. “Gary Payton hit some 3s, had some timely offensive rebounds, and stuff like that.”

Paul’s backup, the plucky Cameron Payne, was harassed into a 3-for-17 shooting night, mostly because he had trouble breathing through GP2’s snug defense.

That’s because GP2 keeps coming, bringing the fight to whomever wants it, doesn’t want it or can’t handle it. A lot like the team on which he plays.

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