Gary Payton II

Kerr highlights underrated key to Payton's game on display vs. Spurs

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Gary Payton II made an impact in his return to the court Friday night, providing his signature defensive energy off the bench in the Warriors' 118-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Chase Center.

The Golden State guard had missed his team's previous three games with a sprained left ankle, but he picked up right where he left off during Friday's victory and earned Warriors coach Steve Kerr's praise. While Payton's huge block on Spurs phenom Victor Wembanyama was the highlight of the game, Kerr called attention to a vastly underrated trait No. 0 possesses.

"One of the benefits of playing him is he just knows how to play with Steph [Curry]," Kerr told reporters after the NBA In-Season Tournament game. "It's not just his defense, which is excellent, but when he's on the floor with Steph, that's where some of the off-ball stuff just happens because Gary recognizes it as well as anybody. ...

"There's definitely a lot of value in playing Gary with Steph, and we're trying to do that more."

Payton was a key defensive catalyst for the Warriors during their 2022 NBA Finals run, and after spending a majority of last season with the Portland Trail Blazers, who acquired him in free agency, the 30-year-old is thriving again after Golden State traded for him in February.

His efforts on both sides of the court haven't gone unnoticed by Curry, either, who certainly has benefited from having Payton back alongside him on the floor.

"He gives us great energy on the ball defensively, and he's one of those guys [where] it might show up on the stat sheet, it might not, but he makes the opponent have to be aware of him, where he's at, [and] think about him," Curry told reporters after Friday's game. "He causes chaos out there, so he's doing a good job with that for us.

"We have to talk better as a group, and I think he took [it as] a challenge, having watched for however many games he was out, to make his presence felt there, too."

Payton, Curry and the Warriors kept their In-Season Tournament chances alive with Friday's win, and now, a decisive West Group C matchup against the Sacramento Kings looms Tuesday at Golden 1 Center.

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