JaVale McGee's wild hunt for a triple-double

March 16, 2011

JaVale McGee has been inconsistent all season — known to follow up a highlight-reel alley-oop dunk with a missed defensive assignment; or an impressive double-double one game with a disappearing act the next. So his first career triple-double, predictably, became an elaborate adventure.

McGee had 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots, the most rejections in an NBA game in nearly 10 years, during the Washington Wizards98-79 loss to the Bulls on Tuesday in Chicago. But the 7-foot-1 center completed arguably the most difficult aspect of the triple-double in just three quarters, as he had 10 blocks and showed patience and discipline in defending the pick-and-roll, holding his ground and not falling for pump fakes.

“I had three the first quarter and I was trying to match that in the second quarter and I had seven, so I was like, ‘I’m going to try and get 14,’ ” McGee said. “I was trying to stay on my feet, as much as I could, until I knew for sure the shot was going up. Because I was blocking shots so good, people was hesitating, more afraid to go up, and it was easy to block shots.”

McGee became the first player to get at least 12 blocks in a game since Keon Clark had that many for Toronto on March 23, 2001. He came within three of Manute Bol’s franchise record, which may have been within reach if the Bulls hadn’t taken 32 three-pointers.

“He is a hard guy to shoot over,” Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said. “With his athleticism, on defense, he impacted the game.”

But as the fourth quarter began, McGee had just five points and seven rebounds. He played with abandon as he pursued becoming the first player with a point-rebound-block triple-double since Orlando Magic all-star Dwight Howard had 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks against Oklahoma City on Nov. 12, 2008.

McGee grabbed five rebounds in the final period, clearing out anyone in his path, including teammates, to collect caroms. After the game in the locker room, McGee apologized to Maurice Evans for mistakenly shoving him out of the way for a late rebound. “That was you?” asked Evans, whose back was turned on the play.

“Yeah,” McGee said. “I didn’t know who was there. I had the ball, put my arm out, then I realized it was you there.”

McGee got his ninth point as he was fouled on a driving dunk around Bulls center Kurt Thomas, who was starting in place of the flu-ridden Joakim Noah. He screamed toward the rafters, realizing that he was heading to the foul line to get the 10th point. He missed the free throw, which led to a wild, perhaps shameless, chase of what is often the easiest part of a triple double. “The hardest one point I ever tried to make in my life,” McGee said.

Coach Flip Saunders called four consecutive plays for McGee to reach the milestone. McGee first got the ball near the foul line and badly missed a runner off the backboard. He then got the ball on the left side of the block, turned around and shot an air ball about three feet over the rim. He got the ball near the foul line again, but in an effort to dribble around Thomas, McGee lost the ball out of bounds.

His teammates kept looking for him, and John Wall eventually helped him reach his goal. With the Wizards trailing by 20 points in the final 30 seconds, Wall dove to the floor for a loose ball and turned around to place the ball in McGee’s hands. McGee drove inside for what he called “a dunk of relief” but accentuated it with a chin-up on the rim, collecting a technical foul as he nearly kicked the bottom of the rim. “We knew he was pressing,” said Wall, who had a triple-double in his sixth career game. “I heard him just calling my name when I picked it up, I gave it to him and I turned around, threw it to him, cleared the lane for him.”

McGee’s historic night moved him past Howard for second in the league in blocked shots with 2.38 per game.

The day before his rare feat, McGee flustered Saunders with an underhand air ball scoop and one of those frantic dribbling displays that causes Wizards assistants to slap their heads and bang their clipboards in a 27-point loss to Oklahoma City.

“Let's put it this way, if we weren’t in a rebuild, on my others [teams], he'd have a tough time” getting minutes, Saunders said after Monday’s game. “You have to bite your lip. I actually bite my lip, and I almost have a callous on my lip to try and let them play through some things, to hope that they get it. But you can't play that way. That's losing basketball.”

McGee’s hunt of an individual record in the midst of the Wizards’ 12th loss in 13 games doesn’t exactly change that perception. But Saunders wasn’t going to discount McGee’s efforts to help the Wizards hold Chicago to just 40 percent shooting for the entire game. “He protected the rim as well as he has all year,” Saunders said. “We’d like to see him to do that more, concentrate more defensively and protect that rim.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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