Gary Payton II’s journey to becoming an important contributor for a team in the NBA Finals is well-documented.
The 29-year-old has been cut four times in six years, spent years in the G League and even contemplated applying for the Warriors’ video coordinator position before earning a spot on the roster this season.
Payton had a breakout season, averaging 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 71 games, showcasing his defensive prowess and athleticism to develop into an invaluable part of the Warriors’ playoff rotation.
And after dropping 15 points with five rebounds off the bench in a 104-94 win in Game 5 of the NBA Finals over the Boston Celtics on Monday to put the Warriors one victory away from a championship, Payton described what the win at Chase Center meant to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kerith Burke.
“Everything,” Payton said. “It was back against the wall for both teams. We knew this win right here – first team to get back-to-back W’s is going to change the series. We took care of home court. We got it back. Now go on the road, and get greedy.”
The Celtics hadn’t lost consecutive games all postseason before the Warriors won both Games 4 and 5, turning a 2-1 series deficit into a 3-2 lead and a chance to close out a championship in Boston on Thursday.
For Payton, just playing in the Finals was something of a major accomplishment. The guard fractured his elbow in the second round against the Memphis Grizzlies when Dillon Brooks fouled him from behind while he was attempting a dunk.
At the time, given the diagnosis, many thought Payton’s season was over – including coach Steve Kerr.
“When he was lying there in Memphis, I thought maybe his season was over,” Kerr said after Game 5. “We knew how important he was to us in so many ways.”
Kerr described Payton’s rehab work and credited his work ethic.
“The inspiration for Gary was to be able to make it back if we were able to advance, and I watched him work every single day running sprints, doing defensive slides, with his elbow in a sling,” Kerr said. “The guy's a workhorse. He's incredible. Amazing athlete, great defensive player. He's got really good instincts out there, and obviously super competitive. And for him to make it back, it's obviously crucial for our team, but I'm really thrilled for him with his journey in this league. He's come a long way, and now he's getting a chance to shine in the Finals, so it's awesome.”
But Payton isn’t ready to celebrate quite yet. When asked by Burke how it felt to be one win away from the Finals, he smiled and responded: “I’ll let you know in a few days.”