Golden State Gets a Boost From an Unlikely Source: JaVale McGee

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Golden State’s JaVale McGee defending the shot by Portland’s Evan Turner during Game 2 of the playoffs on Wednesday.

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Kelley L. Cox/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Earlier this season, as the Golden State Warriors adjusted to life with Kevin Durant, a narrative emerged that would prove hard to shake. The offense was firing on all cylinders, but the sacrifices required to sign Durant left what was perceived as a glaring flaw: There was no rim protector to keep opposing teams honest.

The Portland Trail Blazers — a team that has recently become intimately familiar with JaVale McGee’s 7-foot frame leaping over them to swat away shots — would very likely disagree that flaw exists.

Brought in by the Warriors as a backup to Zaza Pachulia, McGee was not signed until Sept. 15, and his roster spot was initially little more than a footnote. To that point, he was an injury-prone eight-year veteran known for, in order, a persistent feud with Shaquille O’Neal about his frequent blooper-reel performances on TNT’s “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” his outspoken mother (Pamela McGee, a former star player), his love of drinking water, and his frustratingly untapped athletic potential.

Flying in the face of all of that, McGee has thus far dominated in limited minutes. Golden State has raced to a 2-0 series lead against the Blazers, and heading into Game 3 he appears to be a key cog for a team proving to be more than just a collection of superstars.

On Twitter, where McGee’s prominence had always outweighed his performance on the court, the basketball writer Alex Wong summed up the cognitive dissonance of seeing a top team find what it had been lacking from such an unexpected source:

McGee’s improbable impact has never been felt more than in Golden State’s 110-81 victory in Game 2. The team’s stars were mostly quiet, but McGee put together one of the finest low-minute performances in playoffs history. In just 13 minutes, he had 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks. He shot a perfect 7 for 7 from the field and even made his lone free-throw attempt.

“It was amazing, the energy that he brought off the bench,” Draymond Green said in a news conference after the game. “Obviously, it showed up in the points.”

Since minute totals became readily available in the 1983-84 season, just 20 players have had 15-5-4 off the bench in a playoff game. McGee did it in by far the fewest minutes, with 15 of the 19 other players needing more than twice as much playing time as he did to get there.

While his impact has been aided by an injury to Jusuf Nurkic forcing Portland to play small,…

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