NBA Playoffs

Once passed over by Nurse and NBA, Payne brings can't-miss joy (and buckets) in Game 3 

Payne helped jolt the Sixers' offense in their Game 3 victory over the Knicks.

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Cameron Payne knew what the Sixers required and had no doubt he could provide it.

“That’s my niche,” Payne said Thursday night after the Sixers beat the Knicks and cut their first-round playoff series deficit to 2-1. “I’m just that ‘Whatever you need’ kind of guy. And tonight we needed energy, and I brought it.”

The 29-year-old backup guard helped jolt the Sixers’ offense into top gear following the team's 2-for-11 first quarter from three-point range.

Over the first 100 seconds of the second quarter, Payne assisted one triple and drained two. He played with ample pace, joy and self-belief as a valuable No. 4 scorer behind Joel Embiid (50 points), Tyrese Maxey and Kelly Oubre Jr. Payne ended the evening with 11 points, three assists and two blocks in 16 minutes. 

De’Anthony Melton was available to make another return from his lumbar spine injury, but Sixers head coach Nick Nurse opted for Payne and liked what he saw. 

“He was awesome,” Nurse said of the Sixers’ trade deadline pickup from the Bucks. “He certainly did a good job. We obviously we were searching a little bit there for some kind of spark off the bench. We certainly had that in our thoughts, to maybe go with Cam first. We still had Melt in the back of our mind a couple times there too, but Cam got going so he kind of soaked up those minutes.” 

Before the Sixers’ Game 2 loss in New York, Nurse had said he expected Payne to play because Tyrese Maxey was struggling with an illness.

Since Maxey still managed to go 44 minutes and played a fantastic game, that chance never materialized. In Game 1, Payne received just 2 minutes and 34 seconds. 

“You’ve got to keep the same mindset,” he said, “because you never know when the opportunity will be there. If I had been down and mad, I probably wouldn’t have did what I did tonight.” 

A few years back, it seemed like Payne’s NBA opportunity might have slipped away. 

Nurse’s Raptors waived him before the start of their 2019-20 regular season. He bounced around, spending time in China and with the G League’s Texas Legends before catching on with the Suns in the NBA’s Disney World bubble. 

“I don’t remember too much about him because he was in training camp and wasn’t around very long,” Nurse said with a chuckle on Feb. 10. “But I do certainly remember, because right after that is when he kind of became Cam Payne. 

“He went to Phoenix and started playing really, really good. We’re all like, ‘Oh.’ … It was a pretty deep point guard training camp, if I remember right. I just remember we had Cam, and (saying), ‘Look at him go’ a lot, but I don’t really remember all that much about the camp.” 

The 2024 version of Payne is obviously a more memorable, self-assured player. 

He learned under Chris Paul in Phoenix, appeared in every game of the Suns’ 2021 Finals run, and proved himself worthy of a stable NBA spot. 

“I’ve been the guy who gets looked over all the time,” Payne said. “I’ve been the guy who (people say), ‘Ah, I don’t know. He’s too small. He’s this, he’s that.’ I’ve been through it. This is Year 9 for me and I’ve finally come to a point where I don’t listen to it. I know what I can come out here and do. I know how I can help, so I just stay locked in with that. 

“I don’t really listen to what other people have got to say. I just make sure I stay locked in on Cam Payne and the things that he does well, and bring that out there on the court.”

He’s happy to be an adaptable, spirited lefty who fires threes the defense doesn’t quite expect and skips back down the court after sinking them. 

“Energy costs nothing,” Payne said. “I was pumping the crowd up tonight. … As humans, we feed off energy, we feed off confidence, we feed off things. But when you’re always negative on somebody, you may not get the full potential. And a lot of the bench guys, that’s our job, to keep giving guys confidence. 

“Keep showing love to the guys out there playing, because you never know when you might be out there and you want that energy back. … I like having fun. It’s still a child’s game. I love having fun out there and I feel like once the crowd gets going and once we get into it, man, it’s an even better team out there.” 

Count Maxey among the Sixers who enjoy Payne’s brand of energy. 

“He’s so positive,” Maxey said. “Everybody says I’m positive, but he’s extremely positive. He’s just jumping around, having a great time. 

“He makes you want to go out there and really compete with your brothers. And he’s always vocal on the bench. … He’s always telling everybody, ’Stay aggressive, stay ready, go out there and be who you are.’ So we appreciate him for being who he was tonight.” 

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