Having completed a sweep of the Spurs in their conference finals series several days before the Cavaliers finished off the Celtics, the Warriors will have had well over a week to prepare for the start of the NBA Finals on Thursday. If Golden State was running out of things to contemplate regarding its rival, though, Cleveland may have provided some bulletin-board material Tuesday.
Well, the material in question didn’t come directly from the Cavs, and, in fact, we do not know the identity of the player who offered the potentially inflammatory opinion. But according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, somebody on Cleveland’s roster does not have the highest regard for JaVale McGee’s intelligence.
McMenamin was participating in a Finals preview for an ESPN podcast, “The Basketball Analogy Show,” when the network’s Brian Windhorst began discussing the impact McGee, a backup center for the Warriors, could have. That prompted McMenamin to respond, “I had a Cavs player disagree with your opinion of McGee, Brian.”
“He postulated to me that he doesn’t even think McGee’s gonna be able to get on the court, or certainly not stay on the court, because he doesn’t think he’s quote-unquote ‘smart enough’ to be able to play in this series.”
That’s not likely to go over very well in Golden State’s locker room, considering how the team rose to McGee’s defense earlier in year, when he was feuding with longtime antagonist Shaquille O’Neal. McGee had become a staple on “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” O’Neal’s blooper-reel segment on TNT, but by February, the Golden State big man had had enough, leading to a social-media war of words that required the intervention of O’Neal’s mother.
At the time, Kevin Durant called O’Neal’s continued belittling of McGee “childish” and noted that Shaq had his own “flaws” as a player. However, O’Neal has hardly been the only one to have portrayed McGee as a knucklehead, and the latter’s career appeared to have hit something of a dead end before he was picked up by Golden State in July as an inexpensive bench candidate.
In the Warriors’ talent-rich, unselfish environment, McGee has become a valuable role player, and his average minutes have increased in the playoffs from 9.6 to 10.5. He is leading all players in the postseason with a .740 shooting percentage, on 50 shots, while adding 7.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks (which translates to a 24.0/10.9/3.7 line per 36 minutes played) as Golden State has gone 12-0 heading into the Finals.
gimme a break. That narrative has to die.
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) May 30, 2017
On the podcast, though, contributor Wosny “Big Wos” Lambre said he agreed with the unnamed Cav’s assessment, at least in terms of the difficulties McGee might have in executing his defensive assignments if Cleveland goes small. “He can’t guard Kevin Love, if they’re running pick-and-rolls,” Lambre said. “… Deciding how close to stay to the guard, or how close to stick to Kevin Love, like, that guy making that decision? I don’t know.”
Windhorst then pointed out that McGee could be an effective weapon on offense, positing that the 29-year-old could make the wide-open shots he was likely to get on the weak side of the Warriors’ sets. According to Windhorst, McGee would be an offensive factor for which Cleveland would have to account, unlike in last year’s Finals, when the likes of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli got minutes at center for Golden State.
After what has felt like an interminable delay between the conference finals and the championship round, we’ll finally start to find out Thursday how McGee and everyone else fares in the NBA Finals. Having coughed up a 3-1 lead (you might have heard about that) to the Cavs last year, the Warriors certainly won’t lack for motivation, but Tuesday might just have brought them an extra rallying cry.
(H/T Bleacher Report)