Just over four weeks after a code-breaking flagrant foul from Dillon Brooks left him with a fractured elbow, the Golden State Warriors’ defensive ace Gary Payton II is on track to make his comeback in the first game of the NBA Finals tonight.
Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II is on track to dress and be available for Game 1 of the NBA Finals vs. Boston tonight, sources tell me and @anthonyVslater. Remarkable return process for Payton after fracturing his left elbow on May 3.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 2, 2022
“On track” is great progress for GPII, who just two days ago was merely “trending toward a game-time decision, according to the NBA’s highest news authority, “Sources.” Payton was hit early in Game Two of the Warriors’ second-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies, just three minutes into the game. He started the first two games of that series, in order to guard Ja Morant, after coming off the bench against Denver in the first round.
For his six-plus playoff games so far this season (we’re not counting the aborted Game 2 effort, where Payton admirably split his free throws with a broken arm for his only stats), Payton is averaging 6 points per game, along with a steal, .8 blocks, and 3.5 rebounds. But he’s shooting a stunning 73% from the field, including 6/8 from three-point range. It’s going to be hard to replicate those numbers, even with a completely healthy elbow, but those numbers indicate just how smart and opportunistic GPII has been with his limited shots this post-season.
The Warriors will likely use Payton on Marcus Smart or Jaylen Brown, but he’s not afraid to guard anyone. He’s blocked MVP Nikola Jokic twice this season, most recently in Game Two.
It remains to be seen how much lingering damage there is from the fracture, but even if Payton can only deliver a few minutes of intense ball pressure per half, it would help tremendously, especially as the Celtics are playing a very short rotation, and Smart is already banged up. After two seven-game series in the Eastern Conference, the last thing a Celtics ball handler wants is Young Glove harassing them for 94 feet. Plus, Boston plays excellent defense, so forcing live-ball turnovers - a GPII specialty - could go a long way in swinging what are likely to be some close defensive struggles. The same goes for his timely offensive rebounding.
GPII’s return likely means that Moses Moody moves down in the rotation, if not out, and Damion Lee gets pushed down even further. Will Damion Lee somehow still log ten minutes in Game Two? Of course, if only to madden Warriors fans on Twitter.
It’s a big week for Payton, who also won the Bob Lanier Community Assist Award this week, earning a $75,000 donation to the Gary Payton II Foundation.
At press time, Dillon Brooks could not be reached for comment, as we assume he’s in Cancun.