MEMPHIS — Gary Payton II proved in training camp that he deserved a list identify. It didn’t take long to establish that he would outplay his 15th identify on the list. But never has his value to the Golden State Warriors been clearer than Tuesday night inside FedEx Forum, already in a 116-108 loss.
When Grizzlies star Ja Morant checked in with 7:40 to go, Payton leaped from his seat on the opposite bench and sprinted to the scorer’s table. That was his man. He needed to check in, too. Despite their best efforts to slow Morant, who earned “M-V-P” chants at the foul line, Golden State could only contain him momentarily.
The Warriors were grasping for answers against Morant. Juan Toscano-Anderson started the game with the matchup, one of the toughest in all of basketball, and lasted one possession. It was Andrew Wiggins’ turn next, before the Warriors turned to a zone, which Morant quickly broke with a wide-open 3.
By the end of the opening period, Morant had 15. He finished with 29 and sealed the Grizzlies’ win — their 10th in a row overall and their fourth in the past five regular-season matchups with the Warriors — with a pair of baskets in the final minute.
Payton, whose position was in doubt with a sprained ankle, didn’t sub in until the final seconds of the first quarter. He played 22 of the ensuing 36 minutes. Morant managed only 14 more the rest of the way but knocked down the big ones with under a minute to go.
As the shot clock wound down, Morant drove directly into Payton and bodied his way to the basket and extended the Grizzlies rule back to two scores, 113-108, after a Payton dunk on the other end had pulled the Warriors within one possession. Morant did it again, this time drawing a foul on Wiggins and finishing the 3-point play, on the next possession.
When they say basketball is a game of runs, this is what they are talking about. Memphis rattled off scoring streaks of 14-0 and 18-3 and built a rule of 18 points, only for it all to fall apart by the middle of the third quarter, thanks to a 31-7 burst by Golden State on both sides of intermission.
Consider this four-game road trip an extended postseason preview. All four teams — Milwaukee, Chicago and Minnesota after Memphis — would be penciled into playoff spots if the season ended today.
The Grizzlies ended the Warriors’ season in the play-in round in May and were the only ones to beat Golden State for the first 12 games of this season. They’re
Morant scored 18 during the third quarter of that October game and opened this one with 15 in the first period, the only player this season with multiple 15-point quarters against Golden State. go into Payton. End Morant — almost.
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