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OAKLAND — There are secrets so precious that no amount of digging can unearth them. Who shot JFK? How much does Donald Trump pay in taxes? And who would start at center for the Warriors in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs?

Golden State coach Steve Kerr has a full hand of big-man cards at his disposal these days, and he flatly refused to answer when asked about his starter a couple hours before tipoff on Saturday. When the news finally dropped, it was a small surprise. Getting the nod was JaVale McGee, who had started just one of the Warriors’ final six regular-season games.

“I already knew, but we definitely weren’t gonna tell everybody else who was starting, because we didn’t know who they were starting yet,” McGee said after the game, looking like the world’s tallest jazz man in all-black garb and dark, round sunglasses. His reaction? “I was prepared.”

Sure looked like it. By the time the final buzzer sounded, McGee had made Kerr look like a genius. The elongated 7-footer played a modest 16 minutes and 23 seconds, but they were the crucial minutes of the game. And he dominated them.

McGee won that opening tip against the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge and stayed on the floor until the 3:01 mark of the first quarter, at which point he subbed out for young Kevon Looney. By then, the Warriors owned a 20-11 lead, and McGee had scored nine of those points to go along with three rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

The game never got closer than six points after that, and it was effectively over by the late third quarter. The Warriors won 113-92 to take Game 1 and calm the jittery nerves of Bay Area hoops fans.

McGee wound up with 15 points, his highest output of the season.

The underdog Spurs revealed their intentions early in this one. Even with Stephen Curry out, they weren’t going to let the Warriors win at the 3-point line. They crowded shooters on every defensive switch, daring the home team to redirect the ball inside. The Warriors took advantage. Specifically, McGee took advantage, repeatedly catching bullet passes and finishing with dunks or finger rolls.

Spurs small forward Danny Green confirmed the failed strategy afterward.

“We’ve got to give up something,” he said. “… What we were giving up was JaVale trying to make plays in the middle of the floor, and he made some. He made the right ones. We hope that he doesn’t continue to make those plays.”

The Spurs will need more than hope to separate McGee and the basket.

Anyway, it was on the defensive end that McGee staked his claim Saturday. After the contest, Kerr called Aldridge “the best low-post scorer that we have now in the game.” The power forward averaged better than 23 points a game for the Spurs this year. Behind him, they have very little punch. San Antonio can’t beat the Warriors without Aldridge scoring at a high clip, and in Game 1 he finished with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

McGee doesn’t get all the credit for that. But he earned the lion’s share. And it wasn’t a new development. The fact is, McGee has defended Aldridge well in the recent past.

It’s a result that makes no sense. Aldridge is a player without quickness. He can’t come close to matching McGee’s athleticism. But he’s a crafty veteran with a vast arsenal of moves and feints. This should work directly against a player like McGee, who is known for his aggressiveness, and frequently for his overagressiveness. Everyone knows that you can dupe JaVale McGee. Give him a head fake and watch him sail in front of the rafters.

As Kevin Durant said: “Half the battle with JaVale is just being focused and locked in.”

Against Aldridge, for whatever reason, McGee has the focus of a Jedi.

“I think that the most important thing is he’s always kind of flying at every shot, or possibility of a shot,” Draymond Green said. “Throughout the course of the season, but also tonight, he’s standing down more. … It was very key on LaMarcus tonight that JaVale wasn’t going for the shot fakes and putting him at the free-throw line. I don’t think he ever really found a rhythm because of that.”

Case in point: Four minutes left in the first quarter, Warriors up by six points, Aldridge with the ball on the low block. He pumped. McGee held his ground. Aldridge pumped again. Still McGee held his ground. Then Aldridge finally released a shot, and McGee swatted it. The ball stayed inbounds; Durant picked it up, dribbled downcourt and calmly planted a 3-pointer to ignite the Oracle Arena crowd.

“When you’re in the game, it’s like timing,” McGee said. “It’s not something you can prepare for. You just have to wait.”

Green said that McGee has worked hard to become more disciplined in going airborne, and the big man acknowledged as much.

“When I was younger, of course, I was slightly more athletic, so I used to go for everything,” McGee said. “… People are pump-faking me more now, so I’m definitely more focused on staying down and trying to affect the shot more — in a smarter way, I guess.”

What a strange season it has been for McGee. He became an Oakland darling last year, his first with the Warriors, when he cast off his reputation as an on-court knucklehead and proved to be a valuable and exciting member of an NBA-championship squad. But his minutes lagged in 2017-18. He hardly played in some stretches of games. As 2017 elapsed, rumors had McGee on the trading block, possibly headed to Milwaukee.

“I mean, yeah, definitely a roller coaster, but you have to take that in stride,” McGee said Saturday. “This isn’t the craziest thing that’s ever happened in my life.”

The trade deadline came and went, and McGee stayed. And coming out of the All-Star break in mid-February, Kerr made a switch at center and began to start him over the more reliable but slower Zaza Pachulia. But that, too, proved illusory. The Warriors center position began to look like a five-man baseball rotation as the playoffs approached.

The bell rang for McGee on Saturday, though, and he answered it. Kerr acknowledged after the game that he’s the likely starter for Game 2 on Monday, too. The veteran isn’t taking it as a promise, though.

“Next series I might not play at all, and I’m not going to sit there and pout,” McGee said. “I’m going to be the same person I am. That’s the way it is on this team, especially in the center position. You have to be ready when your time is called.”

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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