OAKLAND — When the Golden State Warriors signed Demarcus Cousins for the bargain-basement veteran’s minimum this summer, it was because he was one of those “16-game guys,” that Draymond Green had spoken of, referring to the number of postseason wins required to win an NBA title.
Recovering from a left Achilles tear, Cousins would miss half of the regular season (likely one of the reasons he lacked suitors), but he’d be around long enough to insinuate himself into the Warriors’ system, and be ready for the playoffs.
Less than four minutes into his second career playoff game on Monday, in Golden State’s first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, before the Warriors committed the worst collapse in NBA playoff history, Cousins went down with what head coach Steve Kerr termed a “sigificant” injury to his left quadriceps.
“There’s probably a significant quad injury,” Kerr said. “We’ll get an MRI tomorrow, but he’s going to be out for I’ll just say a while because I think it’s unclear right now how long he’ll be out. It’s significant.”
In the process of going for a steal from Clippers guard Patrick Beverley — the villain of Saturday night’s Game 1, Cousins sprawled to the floor near the far sideline. He immediately grabbed his left thigh, and stayed on the floor for several moments, as the Warriors called a time out with 8:09 to go in the first quarter.
He was helped up by guard Jacob Evans, but refused assistance from backup center Andrew Bogut, and limped to the locker room. A photograph on Twitter from Mary Babers Green — Draymond Green’s mother — showed what looked like a divot in the middle of his upper leg — the telltale sign of a quadriceps tear — the same leg which suffered the torn Achilles in January of 2018.
That Achilles tear, suffered in his first full season with the New Orleans Pelicans, took nearly a year to rehab, meaning he didn’t get to go to the playoffs with them last season. Cousins made his Warriors debut against the Clippers in January of 2019, and many in the locker room felt he was due for a bounceback after a disappointing Game 1 of the current series. He had averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in 25.7 minutes since his return.
“You feel for him, considering what he’s been through this last year,” said Stephen Curry. “This is a big stage, the playoffs. he’s been looking forward to this … Just man-to-man, in terms of him, what he’sbeen through, it’s tough, for sure. There’s no sugarcoating it at all. You hate seeing that opportunity again on this big stage being taken away from him like that.”
Without Cousins, Golden State tied the game at 12-12 and then expanded their lead to 31 points, thanks to the play of Bogut — the Warriors’ now-crucial late-season pickup — and Kevon Looney.
Looney continued his solid play from Game 1, when he had a plus-30 mark in just 17 minutes. On Monday, he scored a career-high (for regular or postseason) 19 points in 19 minutes, shot 6-for-6 from the floor and pulled down five rebounds. It’s likely he’ll be leaned on more, in Cousins’ absence.
“I’ll get my same role, same minutes,” Looney said. “I’ll probably get a little more time, but just bring the energy, try to be a little more aggressive when I get the ball down in the paint. Cuz is a force down in the paint, and just keep going with what I’ve been doing.”
Bogut, who was signed to provide depth behind Cousins, was a defensive force, with a plus-5 rating in 16 minutes and a team-high nine rebounds.
As the lead grew and grew, Kerr even managed to get Jordan Bell three minutes of run, knowing that the center depth — shallow as it was — would be tested without Cousins, if he should happen to miss time. He may miss more than just a game or two.
“Obviously there will be more minutes,” said Bogut. “It’ll still be matchup dependent, but I anticipate probably starting games, playing the first three or four minutes and then coming out. Hopefully, [the injury] is not too serious. It didn’t look good. Not going to make any guesses because we’re not doctors.”
Cook, too, was loathe to put anything out into the universe, though it was clear the injury was more than a mild strain.
“We ain’t speaking that into existence. We praying for the best,” Cook said.
“We’ll miss his low-post dominance,” said guard Klay Thompson. “We’ll miss his screen setting, his energy out there. I’m hoping for a speedy recovery, because we really need him if we want to make this run.”
If Cousins is indeed out, that decidedly ups the chances for Golden State re-signing him this offseason. A twice-injured Cousins would draw little interest on the open market (it’s why he went with his so-called “nuclear option” of signing for the veteran’s minimum with the Warriors — an organization of which he’d heard glowing reviews). It’s also thought that Cousins enjoys the fact that he can just be another cog in the machine, rather than the face of the franchise and the focal point of the offense. All that could mean that Golden State would get yet another bargain.