DeMarcus Cousins did everything right in rehabbing his way back onto the court with the Golden State Warriors and finding his role next to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and company.
Given that hard graft, it was hard not to feel for Cousins as he crumpled to the floor with a torn left quad on Monday night, effectively ending his season.
With Cousins back in the locker room, Golden State let a 31-point lead slip away in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Clippers. While another big body in the paint would certainly have helped stem the tide, any suggestions that this injury leaves the Warriors vulnerable are overstating Cousins’ importance to the defending champions.
An extra dimension
Cousins undeniably gave the Warriors a different dimension with his ability to bully smaller defenders in the post - a real advantage against defenses that try to switch every matchup against Golden State’s potent offense.
As a skilled and willing passer, he quickly adapted to the movement of Curry and Klay Thompson, and he stretched the floor with his (admittedly streaky) three-point shooting.
But running plays for Cousins also meant taking shots away from Curry, Thompson and Durant. On the other end of the floor, he was a target for opponents looking to test him in pick and roll action. Post-Achilles injury, it was more of a struggle for Cousins to handle speedy guards and wings.
Plugging the gap
By allocating his minutes to Kevon Looney, Andrew Bogut, Jordan Bell and, of course, their deadly small ball line-up, Golden State are still well placed in their quest for a three-peat. In the Clippers series at least, they may even be in a more advantageous position with a more athletic, versatile rotation. Look for Looney to play a bigger role.
A possible second round series against the Houston Rockets will test Steve Kerr’s team, as will a series against whoever survives the Eastern Conference battle royal, but the Warriors have their core intact and healthy. Assuming they put their Game 2 blip behind them quickly, they remain the team to beat, despite losing Cousins for the rest of their playoff run.