OAKLAND — As the Warriors awaited rehabbing center DeMarcus Cousins’ services in the first three months of the regular season, they trotted out a center-by-committee approach.
The strategy, which let the opponent dictate the starting center, helped Golden State navigate through the onset of the season.
Now, with Cousins injuring his quad in a 135-131 loss to the Clippers in Game 2 of their NBA playoff first-round series, the Warriors are back to a familiar plan.
Three minutes into his second career postseason game, Cousins tumbled to the ground as he reached for a loose ball. After the injury, Cousins tried to walk under his own power, avoiding help from his teammates and limping to the locker room.
He didn’t return, and league sources confirmed to NBC Sports Bay Area that there's fear that Cousins might have torn his left quad. One source said the center's prospects are "not good at all."
"There's a pretty significant quad injury," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the loss. "We'll get an MRI tomorrow. But he's going to be out for, I'll just say a while."
The void left by Cousins put the Warriors in a familiar scenario, as Kevon Looney, Andrew Bogut and Jordan Bell each took turns trying to fill in at center. Looney did the most damage, finishing with a career-high 19 points and five rebounds. He did most of his work in the second quarter, scoring 10 points and adding three rebounds as Golden State outscored LA 40-15.
Through two playoff games, Looney is plus-31 from the floor, averaging 12.5 points and five rebounds in 18.2 minutes.
"My role pretty much stays the same," Looney said. "I'll get my same role, same minutes. 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."
As Looney's role increases, so will that of Jordan Bell, whose minutes have dwindled over the last eight games after he was suspended for a road game in Memphis.
Following the team's preseason finale against the Lakers six months ago, Kerr proclaimed Damian Jones the Warriors' starting center out of training camp while Cousins continued to rehab. During the ensuing two months, Jones, Looney and Bell alternated the starting role.
Now, with Jones injured for the season and Andrew Bogut back in the fold, the team has an idea of how its lineup will look.
"It'll still be matchup-based," Bogut said. "But I anticipate probably starting games, playing the first three minutes and then coming out."
Cousins, if initial fears prove true following Tuesday's MRI, will begin another extensive rehab process. It will take at least three months, depending upon the extent of the tear.
Over a year ago, Cousins -- then with the Pelicans -- tore his left Achilles tendon while reaching for a loose ball in the waning moments of a midseason win over the Rockets.
Then just months away from unrestricted free agency, Cousins went into his rehab not knowing if he would get a fraction of the super-max deal he expected entering last season. Now, more than 14 months later, he might find himself in the same position heading into what is sure to be an interesting summer.
"I know it's frustrating for him," Looney said. "I've been through something like that, getting hurt, getting all the way back and then getting hurt again, so I know how frustrating it is, and he is a resilient guy. He's been through adversity before, and I know he's going to bounce back."
Throughout the season, many of the Warriors used Cousins' return as a means of motivation to get the center who never played in a postseason game a chance to win a ring and get paid. With Cousins out, the Warriors find themselves in familiar terrain, and will have to fill the hole at the five like they did during the onset of the season: By committee.
"We'll rally behind him," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Tell him it’s far from the end of the world, tell him he has so much great basketball ahead of him.
"He'll bounce back. I know he will. He's a fighter."