Golden State point guard Chris Chiozza made a rare cameo for the team this month. The weird thing was that he was wearing a Celtics jersey with number 36, which belongs to Marcus Smart.
When Golden State surprised Gary Payton II with the NBA’s Bob Lanier Community Assist Award in practice before Game 1, Chiozza could be seen in the background alongside his teammates, except he was dressed in green. Chiozza’s job in practice had been to impersonate Smart as best he could.
“He’s a little bit bigger than me, but it’s not that hard to emulate other players,” Chiozza said. “With him, it’s being physical, creating a lot of contact, being one of those pests.”
Chiozza took her role seriously: she knew it was the most action she was going to see in the entire series.
Chiozza and Quinndary Weatherspoon, a shooting guard, have two-way contracts with Golden State, which allowed them to split time with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s G League affiliate, during the regular season. But two-way players aren’t eligible to play in the postseason, which means Chiozza and Weatherspoon have been limited to practicing, working out and impersonating team opponents.
As for the games themselves?
“You feel a little powerless,” Chiozza said. “You feel more like a fan than a teammate, because you know that there is no possibility of entering the pitch. So you’re just sitting there watching.”
Chiozza, 26, appeared in 34 regular-season games with Golden State, averaging 2 points and 1.9 assists. Weatherspoon, 25, played in 11 games and scored 11 points in a loss to the Denver Nuggets in March. He said that he had been trying to absorb as many lessons as possible from Golden State’s postseason run.
“Seeing what these guys go through, it gives you an idea of what’s to come if you ever find yourself in that situation,” Weatherspoon said. You already know how to prepare.
The real weirdness of their situation comes on game day, when they do everything their teammates do: take shots, watch video and sweat doing individual work on the court in the two hours leading up to the finale. But as everyone else changes into their uniforms, Chiozza and Weatherspoon are showering and changing into street clothes before heading to the bank.
“We warmed up like we were about to play,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s crazy.”
Chiozza has been on playoff teams in the past. As a freshman during the 2018-19 season, he was with the Houston Rockets when they lost to Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals. He spent the last two seasons with the Nets. He has seen a difference in the way Golden State does business.
“Especially as we go into the playoffs, their demeanor and how they carry themselves and how they prepare for each game, they have so much experience,” Chiozza said. “For example, if your opponent runs away, he doesn’t duck. When things don’t go well, a lot of teams will say, ‘We could lose this game.’ But I never see any of that doubt from them. They never get nervous.”