MEMPHIS -- Steve Kerr again wouldn't reveal his starters during his pregame press conference Sunday, this time to begin the Warriors' Western Conference semifinals series against the Memphis Grizzlies. And for good reason, too.
Gary Payton II earned a bigger role with his first-round performance vs. the Denver Nuggets, and now has been inserted into the starting lineup for Jordan Poole. Payton joins Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green as Golden State's starters for Game 1.
In the Warriors' first-round series win over Denver, Payton averaged 16.9 minutes per game, all coming off the bench. He averaged 6.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. But the defensive stopper had two huge performances, one in the Warriors' Game 3 win and later in their Game 5 win.
He went a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and made all three of his 3-point attempts in Game 3, with all 11 of his points coming in the first half. In the Game 5, he saved his best for last, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Payton drained two huge 3-pointers down the stretch.
Poole started off the series red-hot, averaging 28.7 points in his first three playoff games. But he then combined to score only 19 points in the final two games of the series, while going 6-for-20 from the field.
As Payton jumps into the starting rotation, don't get it wrong. The Warriors would love to see him continue to hit open shots, but his calling will be defense against the Grizzlies. Particularly one pretty important player.
Payton guarded Grizzlies star Ja Morant for just over 16 minutes in the regular season and locked down the All-Star point guard. Morant shot 2-for-12 when guarded by Payton, scoring only seven total points. He also had more turnovers (five) than assists (four).
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors know they can't get into an early hole at FedEx Forum, and Payton pouncing all over Morant's playmaking ability could be the difference in the series opener, along with games going forward.