OAKLAND — JaVale McGee has learned to expect the unexpected.
There have been times this postseason when he’s started. And times when he hasn’t even stepped foot on the floor — eight of them, to be exact.
For some players, that would be tough to navigate. Hard to reconcile. Befuddling. Maddening.
But for McGee, who started in Game 2 of The Finals against Cleveland on Sunday, the rollercoaster has taken on an unusual sense of normalcy.
“That’s my job — stay ready,” McGee said after the Warriors’ 122-103 win.
McGee had 12 points on six-for-six shooting in 18 minutes, his second-highest shooting performance of these playoffs.
At halftime, McGee had just one fewer field goal (four) than LeBron James (five).
Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said he decided to start McGee to help the Warriors get off to a strong start against the Cavaliers.
“JaVale is so explosive, and just with the way he runs, it gives us some pace,” Kerr said. “So I thought he did a great job.”
His contribution Sunday, on one of sports grandest stages, is in direct contrast to the Western Conference Finals, when McGee appeared in only one of seven games, playing just 3 minutes of mop-up duty in the Warriors’ 41-point win in Game 3.
But for McGee, slipping in an out of the rotation is nothing new. He hardly played the first half of the regular season, only to become the team’s starting center in nine-straight games following the All-Star break.
So when Kerr approached McGee on Saturday and said he was going to start in Game 2, marking his first-ever start in the NBA Finals, McGee was ready to go.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised,” McGee said. “But I was honored. Is that the word? Yeah, I was honored.”
McGee said Sunday felt different than any game he’s ever played in. Every time he dunked, the crowd went nuts. The stadium got so loud that he couldn’t even communicate with his teammates.
“I’m trying to call screens for [Draymond Green] while he’s on LeBron [James] and he can’t hear me,” McGee said. “I’m screaming at the top of my lungs.”
Entering Sunday’s game, when McGee started alongside the team’s four All-Stars over the last two years, the Warriors were +148 in 262 minutes.
McGee has a theory why that combination works so well for him — the 7-footer goes undetected among the sea of superstars.
“It’s a lot different because everybody’s not focussed on you,” McGee said. “They’re focused on Draymond getting people open and assisting everybody. They’re focused on Klay [Thompson], [Kevin Durant] and Steph [Curry] scoring. It makes it a lot easier for me.”
So while the Cavaliers had their hands full with two former MVPs, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and one of the greatest pure shooters in the NBA, McGee’s life was simple.
“Get to the open spot and just dunk the ball,” McGee said.
McGee said things feel different now than they did during the Warriors’ championship run in 2017.
“There’s way less nerves,” McGee said. “Last year was the first Finals I was in, so it was more uhhhh uhhhh. Now it’s just basketball.”
McGee is now calmer — but he’s just as cool. He wore his signature fanny pack and sunglasses as he stood in front of dozens of reporters Sunday evening.
But he couldn’t help but smile when asked how it felt to play a significant role in such a big game.
“It’s the most fun I’ve had in basketball,” he said.