Kevin Durant is short a limb. Kevon Looney’s ribs are splayed open like a blooming onion. Andre Iguodala has rocks in his shoes. The Warriors need two more wins, and medicine is not on their side. DeMarcus Cousins is, though.
Cousins checked into Game 5 for the first time as a substitute for Durant after he was shepherded off the court with an Achilles injury. A Warriors collapse in the wake of Durant’s departure would have been forgivable, even expected. After all, KD’s replacement had been thoroughly outplayed by Serge Ibaka for four games and was pretty clearly not in game shape after chilling on the shelf for two and a half series with a torn quad muscle.
Surprisingly, Cousins scored seven straight points upon checking in, stabilizing his team in their most perilous moments and clearly making Raptors bigs more uncomfortable than an injured Looney or slow Andrew Bogut. He muscled past and through both Ibaka and Pascal Siakam for two layups, canned an open three, then assisted Draymond Green with a nice pass to force a timeout with the Raps down 11.
Cousins asks questions of the Raptors that no other Warriors player does. He’s a handful in the post, even for good defenders, simply because he’s bigger than they are. Boogie can’t really run at the moment, though he makes the Warriors’ offense more potent with his smart passing. That’s probably his most significant contribution to a team increasingly reliant on Klay Thompson and Steph Curry hitting shots, since he can find them from angles that, say, Looney cannot. You also have to put a big body on him on the glass or he’ll out-shoulder you. While Cousins was only credited with one block, I recall him altering at least one more of Kawhi Leonard’s shots than the following.
Despite the hot start, Cousins wound up with a negative plus-minus last night, and he made two costly boo-boos toward the end of the game, when he goaltended a Kyle Lowry layup then set a moving screen on Fred VanVleet, giving the Raptors the chance to win it at the buzzer. The offensive foul call seemed overly harsh, though Lowry consistently toasted him all night. Cousins has always been plodding, but because of his injury, he’s especially liable to be targeted on defense. The Raptors gleefully put him in the pick-and-roll for the duration of his 20 minutes, and they should continue to do so whenever they need a bucket in Game 6.
In their current state, the Warriors have no choice but to roll with Cousins, which is both risky and exciting. Nobody else gives them the offensive pop to compete. Boogie’s cantankerous physicality makes for a fun contrast to the computer brains of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Kawhi Leonard or the two-man brilliance of Draymond Green and Steph Curry. The Warriors need to manufacture slivers of space for Curry and Thompson, but they also need Cousins to hassle Gasol and put Serge Ibaka on the ground. They’ll have to live with Cousins’s immobility on defense in order to unlock his passing and rebounding on the other end of the court. That’s a more weighty responsibility than Cousins has ever shouldered in his snakebitten career. Let’s see if he’s cowed by the pressure.