TORONTO — DeMarcus Cousins will be available to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr announced at shootaround at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday morning.
The 6-foot-10, 270-pound center, sidelined with a torn left quadriceps, will return from what was thought to be a season-ending injury almost exactly six weeks from when he sprawled to the floor in the first quarter of Game 2 of Golden State’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Having come back from a torn right Achilles and now a torn quad, Cousins now returns to Golden State at an odd crossroads. Given where he is in the healing process, where he is in the process of getting his full skill set sharpened and how the Toronto Raptors will likely play the Warriors, it’s far from certain what Cousins’ role will be.
Kerr said that he and his staff had an idea about what Cousins’ minutes would look like, but would not divulge exactly what that plan would look like.
“I do,” Kerr said, “but I’m not going to tell you.”
Given that torn quad injuries take about six weeks to heal, the fact that Cousins has been back scrimmaging in the last week is nothing short of remarkable. While players have maintained that he’s looked “good” in scrimmages, his ramp-up to returning from the Achilles took much longer, and even after he got back into games, it took him weeks to acclimate to a Golden State system that was tuned to work without him.
“I’m happy that he’s back, but I feel badly for him,” Kerr said. “You want to be in the Finals, you want to be in the best shape, you want to be as on top of your game as you can possibly be, but life doesn’t work that way. It’s not always perfect.”
The Achilles injury was much more serious, but Cousins has not played at NBA speed for six weeks, and now, he’ll have to do it against the top team in the Eastern Conference, arguably the deepest team Golden State has faced, and a team that beat the Warriors twice during the regular season. All that is to say nothing of the added pressure for Cousins to perform at a level meriting a contract more lucrative than what Golden State offered him this offseason — the veteran’s mid-level exception — after his Achilles injury scared teams away from offering a max contract to the four-time All-Star.
While Toronto has the type of player in Marc Gasol that Cousins was acquired to match up against, Cousins will likely not be possessed of his full complement of skills to deal with a player like Gasol. However, that assumes Gasol plays much. It’s much more likely that the Raptors go small.
When he was with Memphis, Gasol played 28:24 and 26:10 in two games against Golden State, averaging 11.5 points, eight rebounds and 7.5 assists. Toronto beat the Warriors without Gasol twice, before acquiring him at the trade deadline.
With Toronto, Gasol averaged 24.9 minutes in 26 games (19 starts), and 31.2 minutes in the playoffs (6.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 8.6 points). The Raptors, though, may find that their best match-up with the Warriors is going small, which means Gasol (7-foor-1, 255 pounds) may wind up playing far less.
While Draymond Green may have gotten the math off yesterday, by saying Cousins had not played basketball 16 of the last 19 months (it’s more like 13 1/2 months out of the last 17), the rust could be substantial.
Green addressed that rust in comments made during Wednesday’s media day, likening Cousins returning to being a kid from the suburbs being suddenly moved to the rougher side of town, given the fact that he’ll be tested in the most high-pressure environment in the NBA.
“If you’re that kid that’s dropped in the hood, like what do you revert to? You just revert to what you know. You do whatever it is that you know,” Green said. “You just try to do that to survive. Well, one thing we do know is DeMarcus is a great basketball player. So at that point then you just go out there and you do what you’re great at. And everything else will fall in line.
“But I think it’s also on us. You know that kid has a much better chance of surviving if he gets with the right group of friends in that neighborhood. It’s on us as his teammates to help pull him through, to get whatever we can out of him to help make us a better team and do whatever we can to put him in the best position to be successful.”
Right group of friends or no, smaller lineups would cause trouble for a Cousins who may not be as light on his feet as he would be in an ideal situation, especially if he doesn’t trust his lower body and tries to cheat on defense, resulting in fouls.
Cousins likely will not get more than 10 to 12 minutes, given how quickly he’s had to jet through rehab to get to this point. That likely means a lot of minutes for Kevon Looney, having his second straight stellar playoffs with a cumulative-plus-minus rating of +107 in the postseason — third on the team behind only Green and Stephen Curry.
Looney has excelled as Cousins has been out of a rotation that’s found itself riffing on Golden State’s greatest hits, a lineup centered around the core that won a title before Cousins or Durant got to the Bay Area, since Durant is ruled out of Game 1 and almost certainly Game 2 with a calf strain suffered in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets. Though he traveled to Toronto, Kerr said it’s a “long shot” that Durant will practice with Golden State before Game 2 on Sunday, meaning he likely won’t play until the team gets back to Oakland.
Before he went down, Durant, in 39.1 minutes per game, was shooting 51.3% from the field and 41.6% from 3-point range, averaging 5.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 34.2 points per game.
“It’s good to have Kevin here, he’s obviously such a huge part of our team, guys are all pulling for him,” Kerr said of Durant. ” … It wouldn’t hurt to have him back … Until the point that he got hurt, he was having a monster playoffs.”