It was a matchup between two of the most entertaining teams in the league, and a potential showcase for a young star that the Warriors passed on in last year’s draft. But it was a different young guard who stole the show in Golden State’s 114-92 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night at Chase Center. Here are a few takeaways.
Gary Payton leads stellar Warriors defensive effort
The Hornets entered Wednesday’s contest with the second ranked offense in the league, while the Warriors entered with the third ranked defense. It was fairly obvious which unit looked better after 48 minutes.
The Warriors held the high flying Hornets to 37.4 shooting and 27.8 percent from three. Charlotte is averaging a league-high 117.5 points per game, but had just 92. LaMelo Ball was also mostly stifled, scoring just 14 points while going 0-for-6 from deep.
It was an excellent defensive effort all around, reminiscent of the scrambling, switching defense from the championship years. But it was Gary Payton II who stole the show, quite literally. Payton was about as dominant as 6-foot-3 defender who plays 17 minutes can be on Wednesday.
The two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year had three steals, five rebounds and a block. The stats don’t quite do it justice, though. Payton was a menace on the ball, swiping it seemingly every time it was showed to him, including a key strip of Ball during the closing stretch.
But it wasn’t just a defensive breakout for Payton. The guard also had a number of stellar offensive plays, many of which came off offensive rebounds or backdoor cuts to the rim. He also had the highlight of the night, an absolutely nasty transition dunk over former Warrior Kelly Oubre.
Offensively, Payton was tied as the team’s third leading scorer with 14 points and was a +18 in, once again, just 17 minutes.
Payton had looked good in limited minutes in the Warriors’ previous games this season, enough to earn a spot in the first and third quarter rotations. Wednesday felt like a breakout though, and Steve Kerr said postgame that Payton will be getting minutes on a nightly basis moving forward. Klay Thompson will be happy to hear that.
Jordan Poole’s breakout
Payton’s surprising performance somewhat overshadowed what was an excellent game from Jordan Poole, who has been scuffling to start the season. Poole kept the Warriors afloat during a rough stretch to start the game, scoring 16 points in his first 13 minutes. Poole hit six 3s in the first half after making just nine in the first six games.
Poole finished with a season-high and team-high 31 points and was also a game-best +28. Poole also contributed on the defensive end — usually a weak point of his game — adding a team-high four steals.
It’s a reminder of how good the Warriors can be when they are getting offensive contributions from the two guard position, especially on a night when Steph wasn’t himself.
What’s up with Curry?
Speaking of Curry, it was clear something was up from the get-go with the two-time MVP. Curry played just 35 minutes and played only short stints in the first and third quarters. Though unheard of in previous years, this is actually something Kerr has been experimenting with this season as a way to keep Curry’s minutes down.
But Curry’s stretches were shorter as a whole on Wednesday and when he did play he didn’t quite look like himself, finishing the game with just 15 points.
After the game, Kerr confirmed that Curry hasn’t been feeling well the last few days, explaining the strange rotation and his play.
Last year, a Curry off night would’ve killed the Warriors, but Wednesday was an example of how much better the team is this year. Last season, the Warriors were 11-14 when Curry didn’t score 30 points. So far this season, they are 5-0.
All that said, Curry was just two rebounds and an assist away from a triple-double.