OAKLAND — In the NBA Finals, a matchup with the likes of Toronto’s Marc Gasol is exactly why Golden State signed DeMarcus Cousins to a mid-level exception this summer. Apart from David West, they’d never had a true center to deal with the lumbering big men of the league, and certainly not a dominant, four-time All-Star.
Even missing more than half the season as he recovered from a ruptured Achilles, Cousins’ signing was seen as worthwhile, given what he could give them down the stretch and in the playoffs.
With the Warriors center rotation shortened by loss of Kevon Looney in Game 2, Cousins has had to take on a much larger role than perhaps he otherwise would had coming off of near seven-week rehab from a torn quad. In Game 2 he exceeded those expectation but in Game 3 he fell short.
“It’s frustrating but it’s onto the next play,” Cousins said after several controversial calls, just four points in 19 minutes on the floor, two assists and three rebounds to three turnovers. “We had a lot of opportunities, plenty of opportunities tonight but they didn’t go our way.”
In the days leading up to Game 3, the first game of these Finals played at Oracle Arena, much was made of the absence of Warriors forward Kevin Durant and potential loss of Klay Thompson, who suffered a strained hamstring late in Game 2.
What may have slipped through the cracks, however was Looney’s non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture. The result, as seen in the fourth quarter of Game 2, was extended minutes for Golden State’s remaining centers, including Cousins.
Looney had been one of Golden State’s best playoff reserves, ranking seventh among all postseason players when he went down in total plus-minus (plus-105) and third on the team, behind Draymond Green and Stephen Curry.
For Cousins, who in Game 1 had made his first in-game appearance since tearing his left quadricep in the first round against the Clippers, it was a much heavier workload than originally expected, especially since there was serious doubt that he’d even be able to return at all this postseason.
Tasked with keeping the Warriors afloat in Game 2, Cousins responded with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes, which was much higher than the 20-minute restriction Kerr and the rest of the training staff initially expected.
Just three days later, Cousins looked like a different player. Lacking the lateral quickness and physical presence required to help the Warriors steal a win with an undermanned squad, Cousins regressed.
“We had one of those type of nights,” Cousins said. “We weren’t on the string that we usually are and they got it going on the other end. It gave them confidence.”
To begin the night, Toronto looked to exploit the still-recovering Cousins, particularly on the low block, somewhere Looney excelled, and somewhere where the more-athletic Jordan Bell, the smaller Jonas Jerebko and the undersized Draymond Green struggle. Damian Jones — back from a torn pectoral — has barely played, and registerred only 1:37 of garbage time in Game 3 without recording any stats.
Bell played nine minutes and had just two points and two rebounds. Jerebko played nearly 10 minutes and went 1-for-6 with two boards. Andrew Bogut looked to be the best of the bunch, playing 21 minutes, pulling down seven rebounds and going 3-of-4 shooting.
The Raptors fed their back-to-the-basket center Marc Gasol, who used his 7-foot-1 frame to bully Cousins. Their strategy worked, as Gasol scored six of Toronto’s first 19 points, drawing a pair of fouls from Cousins in the process.
It wasn’t only Cousins’ defensive game that left Golden State wonting. Cousins’ offense was off, too. After shooting almost 40% from the field in Game 2, Cousins finished Game 3 just 1-for-7 from the floor.
“It was a rough go in terms of when he had the ball in his hands,” Curry said. “There were some calls that were a little iffy, honestly, in terms of him not being aggressive in the paint and not being able to finish for a lot of different reasons.”
Part of what kept Cousins from being able to finish at the rim was his inability to jump well and get more than a few inches off of the ground, which looked to be a direct product of his still ongoing rehabilitation from the quad.
To make matters worse, Golden State finished with just three players in double digits scoring — Stephen Curry (47), Draymond Green (17) and Andre Iguodala (11) — so an extra producer was much needed, especially with Thompson and Durant out of the mix. With both are likely to play in Game 4 on Friday, meaning there will be less pressure on Cousins.
“Like any great player, if you have a rough game, that resiliency to bounce back and the confidence to know that you can still go out there and impact the game,” Curry said. “That’s something that he’ll bring and we all will follow suit for sure.”