OAKLAND — Drenched in sweat from his first full practice since tearing his left quadriceps in Game 2 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Clippers, Golden State center DeMarcus Cousins addressed the media for the first time since walking up the tunnel with a dent in his thigh that night at Oracle Arena.
When asked if he had ever lost hope that he’d return this season, Cousins replied without hesitation, “No. Not at all.”
According to the Warriors, Cousins has made significant progress towards making his postseason return to for the NBA Finals. The same cannot be said, however, for forward Kevin Durant, who has been sidelined with a left calf strain. Seven days away from their fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, the status of several injured Warriors — Durant, Cousins and Andre Iguodala — are still up in the air.
“There’s never been a point during this process where we’ve been able to say [Durant] can play on such and such day,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “There still isn’t so we just have to keep going and keep moving forward.”
In the case of Cousins, his rehabilitation process after blowing out his quad while chasing down a loose ball in the second quarter of Game 2 has gone about as smoothly as the Warriors could hope for.
Initially, it was thought that Cousins would be shut down for the remainder of the playoffs, considering that a torn quadriceps can take up to to eight weeks to heal properly.
Being a full participant in the team’s Thursday morning practice was a big step in making Cousins’ return to the court.
“I feel better each and every day,” Cousins said. “That’s my whole goal is to get better each and every day that I come. Hopefully that opportunity [to play] comes and I can get on the floor and help my teammates. Try to help them win a championship.”
For the last two weeks, Cousins has been seen running, jumping and shooting post practice. On Tuesday, he even participated in a 5-on-5 scrimmage with fellow Golden State bigs Damian Jones and Jordan Bell.
According to Kerr, there is no real concern regarding the possibility of re-injury for Cousins. Getting him back into game-shape will be the next big hurdle.
“He doesn’t have any more pain and the strength in his quad is good,” Kerr said. “Right now it’s about conditioning and getting some shots up in 5-on-5. Just playing basketball.”
While Cousins looks to be on track for a potential Game 1 or 2 return next week, the status of Durant seems to be much more murky.
In Game 5 of the Warriors second-round series against the Houston Rockets, Durant hobbled off of the Oracle Arena floor after suffering what Golden State announced was a “mild” calf strain.
On Thursday, the team announced that the two-time Finals MVP is unlikely to play Game 1 of the Finals, which is set to be played Thursday, May 30.
According to the team, Durant hasn’t progressed as quickly as they would have liked over the last two weeks since the initial injury. Durant has yet to resume any on-court activities.
“He hasn’t spent any time on the court with us,” Kerr said. “He hasn’t gone through an individual shooting workout so there’s still some work ahead.”
Just one week out from Game 1, which will be on the road regardless of who emerges as the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, not having Durant even stepping foot on a basketball court yet raises some concern. Some have even questioned if Durant’s calf injury is more serious than the Warriors are revealing.
From a sheer X’s and O’s standpoint, both Milwaukee and Toronto present a new set of challenges that Golden State will undoubtedly need Durant to address.
Without Durant in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, as well as the entirety of the the conference finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Warriors faced teams that heavily relied on the scoring punch of their top-tier guards.
Houston ran the majority of the offense through James Harden and Chris Paul while Portland depended on Damian Lillard and C.J. McColumn to score the bulk of their points.
Golden State was able to counter this with their newly named All-Defensive Second Teamer, Klay Thompson and quick-handed forward Andre Iguodala.
What Toronto and Milwaukee both have that the Warriors will be hard-pressed to defend are lanky, quick wings, who allow their respective teams to stretch the floor. And for the Warriors, along with Draymond Green, Durant is the key to smoothing out this wrinkle.
“Every team presents a different challenge,” Kerr said. “But both Milwaukee and Toronto are unique in that they have super star small forwards, who everything revolves around… It’s two great teams and no matter which wins, we’ve got a big challenge.”
With this in mind, the Warriors are not rushing Durant back. The hope is that they will get the two-time Finals MVP back in the lineup at some point before the Finals are over.
“I would say we feel like he’s going to be back at some point during this series,” Kerr said. “But again, there’s nothing clear cut so we leave it up in the air. He keeps doing what he’s doing and we hope for the best.”
The one player battling through injury who is realistically expected to play in Game 1 for Golden State is Iguodala, who also suffered a strained calf.
Iguodala did not look hindered by the calf and appeared to be running without a limp on Thursday after practice. In addition, his jump has not appeared to be affected as the 15-year veteran knocked down seven-straight 3-pointers during his post-practice shooting drills.
“Andre didn’t practice today but we expect him to be okay by Game 1,” Kerr said.
The Warriors plan on practicing the next two days, which will include full-court scrimmages, according to Kerr. The team will have Sunday off to avoid overexertion and to tend to the team’s slew of injuries.
“You hate to risk injury but you also don’t want to go into Game 1 without any rhythm,” Kerr said. “Fortunately we’ve done this a few times and our players understand that they need to get their own work in based on what they need.”