Sunday, December 10

Warriors’ Gary Payton II thrilled to return after injury: ‘If you need me, you got me’

ORLANDO, Fla. ⁠— The last two-and-a-half weeks have been frustrating for Gary Payton II, who’s been out with a knee injury.

But on Tuesday, Payton couldn’t help but smile as he sat in a chair near the baseline Amway Center with ice on both knees after the Warriors’ shootaround.

“We’re back,” he said. “Just ready to go.”

Payton laughed when asked about what it meant to finally see his name off the Warriors’ injury list. It’s unclear whether his minutes will be restricted.

“If you need me, you got me,” he said.

The Stephen Curry-less Warriors will most certainly take him up on his offer in their game against the Orlando Magic.

Payton possesses a versatile skill set and is the type of player who can make the game easier on his teammates. He’s a menace on defense and quick to push the pace off a turnover. His 102 defensive rating is second to only Andre Iguodala (95.6) and just a hair better than Draymond Green (102.2).

“Gary gives us a lot of energy,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He gives us obviously great defense and his ability to score in transition and different ways than our other guys, it gives us a little different look. So hopefully that’s what we’ll get.”

Before he hurt his knee March 3 in a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Payton earned five consecutive starts and helped Golden State’s opening lineup without Green, who missed two months with a back injury. In those games, Payton averaged 11 points on 57.5% shooting, 2.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals.

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Overall, Payton is shooting 61.2% from the field this season and averaging 7.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals this season.

Payton said the hardest part of nursing his sore knee over the last eight games was “just watching” and being unable to help his teammates.

“It’s just been frustrating,” he said.

If it’s any consolation, however, Payton said he was able to pinpoint some of the Warriors’ flaws from the bench. He said he’s excited to “just get back here and try to clean up what we’ve needed to clean up the last couple of weeks.

“And I have been waiting and wanting to get back so it’s gonna feel good tonight,” he continued.

The Warriors — who have played shorthanded the entire season, with its biggest stars missing significant time due to the injuries — will look for Payton to provide a spark off the bench and rely on his dogged defense.

In his return, Payton plans to do what he normally does.

“Bring defensive energy,” said Payton, whose defensive prowess earned him the final spot on Golden State’s roster out of training camp. “We still have playmakers on the floor that can play make and create for us, so just adjust to my teammates and adjust to the lineup that we got out there and get it done.”

Seeking a quicker start

Kerr wasn’t pleased with the wild ending of the Warriors’ loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday, which included a sequence of “bizarre” fouls.

But he also wasn’t too thrilled with his team’s efforts out of the gates.

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That’s why Kerr is emphasizing the importance of locking in on the game plan from the start.

“I just think game plan discipline is the biggest thing,” he said. “We have to be dialed into what the strategy in what we’re trying to accomplish defensively, and that’ll help us get off to a better start and build some confidence, we can go from there.”

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