OAKLAND — The pregame questions carried a sense of worry and a hint of panic. Kevin Durant wasn’t going to play, and my goodness, what were the Warriors going to do without him? Play basketball, of course, as brilliantly as demanded.
You thought otherwise?
The Warriors are the best team in the game — emphasis on team. They had four players in the All-Star game, three besides Durant. They have Stephen and Draymond and Klay. They’ve got shooters. They’ve got defense, and that was never more apparent to the Portland Trailblazers and the roaring crowd at Oracle than Wednesday night.
Oh, and did I mention they have JaVale McGee, who’s been traded and waived virtually from here to eternity but definitely from the Wizards to the Nuggets to the 76ers to the Mavericks until, fortunately for him and for Golden State last September he ended up on the Warriors.
And it is not an exaggeration to say he was one of the reasons, if surely not the only one — no “I” in team, remember? — the Warriors absolutely embarrassed the Trail Blazers, 110-81, in Game 2 of what seems destined to be a very brief first round of the playoffs.
McGee is 29, not exactly a kid, but more significantly he’s 7-feet, 270 pounds and is quick and agile. The Warriors throw him lob passes on offense, which he either tosses in the basket — he was 7-for-7, scoring 15 points — or tosses out to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or the other gunners. Defensively, well, its known as rim protection.
“His energy’s great,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “He’s a great presence around the rim and creates a lot of interesting matchups. JaVale has given us great minutes in that he’s able to cover the smaller players and be a force around the rim.”
JaVale was on the court only 12 minutes and 12 seconds, and maybe in an earlier mode that limited time would had him sulking. But he’s traveled — not in a basketball sense — and matured. He told Monte Poole of NBCSports Bay Area, “I know my role.” Which is to play as long as the Warriors want and as hard as possible.
“His length,” said Kerr of McGee, “his ability to catch the lob. Around the league everybody knows JaVale is as good as anybody going to catch that lob.”
The good thing for the Warriors and McGee is they were able to catch him for a contract just before camp opened in the fall. He showed up with his white headband and, after being a first-round pick by Washington in 2008, a willingness to prove he belongs. Oh, does he ever belong.
It’s a fact that when a rejected player hooks up with a quality team, he responds with the talent people knew he had. It’s as if he’s been told, “We don’t care about your past, we want you.”
McGee said he feels accepted on the Warriors. H’s been around a season, long enough to appreciate what they have and he has.
“We have the confidence,” he said, answering how the team did so well without Durant. “We won for the six weeks he was out with the injury. We won without him.”
As they did Wednesday night.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.