EDINBURG – Gary Payton II’s personality is much like his game.
In the middle of the third quarter, smiling he walked up to RGV Vipers coach Joseph Blair and said he was tired. All players should be so beat coming into a back-to-back contest.
Payton messed around got a triple-double and led the Vipers to an important win.
He ignited a key 13-0 third-quarter surge – scoring four points, dishing out two assists and grabbing two steals in the run – to separate the home team from visiting Sioux Falls and helped RGV to a 133-120 victory over the Skyforce Saturday night at Bert Ogden Arena.
Sharp-shooting Danuel House led the Vipers with 27 points and the Vipers got stellar play from their bigs, Diamond Stone (18 points) and Chris Walker to notch another win and put RGV, the Midwest Division champions, atop of the Western Conference standings with a 32-15 record.
Payton, the irrepressible 6-foot-3 guard, was the difference-maker. He scored scored 18 points, handed out 10 assists, pulled down 10 rebounds and picked the Skyforce’s pockets for five steals. He threw in a blocked shot for good measure.
“Was I tired? You know there’s times when I’m a little winded,” Payton said with a chuckle. “I go over there and talk to coach, catch my breath. He just tells me go till you can’t go no more.”
The Vipers led for most of the game, but after they went on a 13-4 run to close out the second quarter and make the score 71-59, Sioux Falls crept back into the game in third period. The Skyforce got within four points, 84-80 midway through the third before RGV went on the decisive run.
Payton started the roll with a 2-point basket, then on the next possession kept a ball alive with a tip to a teammate after a Viper miss. That resulted another hoop. Payton then stole another ball and followed that theft with another steal later sandwiched between more Viper baskets and thunderous dunk from Payton himself.
Before the Skyforce could see the scoreboard, the Vipers were up 97-80. It was the biggest lead of the night for RGV, and it was a surge Sioux Falls never recovered from.
This season, the RGV Vipers are undefeated when scoring more than 120 points, and they are 23-3 when leading at halftime. Coach Joseph Blair said right now the team has to be thinking about the post season.
“We need to play like it’s a playoff game,” said Blair. “It’s good to get a contribution from everyone on the team. Tonight for me it was just trying to in as many people as I could to see what they can do. Just try to get them ready and find some rhythm moving into the playoffs.
In addition to Payton, House, and Stone, RGV got a solid contribution off the bench from Jordan Johnson. The point guard, who spelled Payton, scored 11 points and dished six assists in 25 minutes. Starting guard Michael Frazier added 14 points and six assists.
The Vipers shot 50 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the behind the arc, but also had 21 turnovers and were edged by the Skyforce in second-chance and fast-break points.
Long-time NBA veteran Jarrett Jack made his G League debut on Saturday. The Skyforce claimed him off waivers. He did not disappoint scoring 21 points – including 13 in the third quarter – before leaving the game with a leg injury. He stayed on the court for some time before being helped to the locker room in visible pain. He did not return.