Warriors need DeMarcus Cousins after topsy-turvy NBA Finals journey

Warriors need DeMarcus Cousins after topsy-turvy NBA Finals journey

TORONTO -- From odd man out to potential savior in the blink of an eye. 

After starting the previous three games of the NBA Finals, DeMarcus Cousins began Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors on Monday planted on the Warriors’ bench. It was a tough pill to swallow for a player who has waited his entire career for a moment like this. 

Warriors coach Steve Kerr played small ball, using Draymond Green as his starting center with superstar Kevin Durant back in the fold. When Kerr needed a sub in the post, he turned to Kevon Looney first. And then Andrew Bogut.

And then the unthinkable happened.

Fresh off a month-long absence, Durant went down holding his right lower leg in the early second quarter. It was a stunning turn of events that caught all of Scotiabank Arena off guard.

Andre Iguodala helped Durant off the court. Stephen Curry followed his friend to the locker room to share a word of encouragement. 

With the game on hold, Kerr assessed his situation and called on Cousins to fill the void. The 6-foot-11 center took the promotion in stride and instantly went to work.

“I thought DeMarcus was fantastic tonight,” Kerr said after the Warriors' 106-105 win. “He stayed ready. He didn't get the first call for that second-quarter run. We went to Bogut, and then with the injury, we knew we needed his scoring, and he stayed ready and played a brilliant game.”

Cousins plowed through a pair of Raptors for his first bucket. He did it again moments later, and then he buried a 3-pointer for seven points in his first minute of action. 

The six-time All-Star finished the half with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, and he also grabbed five rebounds in just 6:18 of action. There was a power to his game that has been missing as he continues to recover from a torn quadriceps.

“So very happy for him, and he's been through an awful lot himself over the last year-plus with his own injuries,” Kerr added. “This was a great night for him individually, and very happy for him.”

Cousins had moments in the second half as well. Some were good, and some were not. 

He finished the evening with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and chipped in six rebounds, one block and one steal in 20 minutes of play. In the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, he was called for goaltending on both ends of the floor and questionably whistled for a moving screen.

When Cousins is healthy, you can take the good with the bad. Even though he isn't 100 percent, his presence in the lineup helped steady the Warriors in a crucial moment Monday. 

In a career filled with chaos, it was a manic week for Cousins. During The Finals, he has gone from medical miracle in Game 1 to starring in Game 2, and he followed that with extremely difficult stretches in Games 3 and 4. 

Now, he’s come full circle. Without his play in Game 5, the Warriors likely would be on a plane home watching the entire country of Canada celebrate the Raptors' first NBA championship. 

“Cuz was unbelievable tonight, for real, he’s one of our most valuable players,” Warriors veteran Shaun Livingston said. “What he did, coming in changing the pace of the game, giving us that punch, like, we’re dangerous when we play that way.”

The struggle to find a rhythm after missing six weeks has taken its toll on Cousins. He was in no mood to talk following the game, despite the win. His words to the media were cryptic, as they have been throughout much of his career.

“Just a lot of things that transpired over the past couple of days, and I just used it as motivation,” Cousins said following the win. “So, I’ll leave it at that.”

It was an emotional evening for the Warriors. On the brink of elimination, they needed all hands on deck. Cousins showed that he is getting closer to the player he has been in the past, but he’s at the mercy of his body at this point. 

[RELATED: KD's Achilles casts cloud over Warriors' present, future]

There is hope that Cousins will continue to get stronger. A two-day break between games is just what the doctor ordered.

There are no promises that he all start Game 6 on Thursday, or that he can give the same level of play. But Golden State will need the big man if it’s going to even the best-of-seven series in Oracle Arena's finale and force a winner-take-all Game 7.

Why Warriors could benefit from unique 2019-20 NBA season calendar

Why Warriors could benefit from unique 2019-20 NBA season calendar

The NBA’s calendar completely has been thrown out in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis on March 11, putting the 2019-20 NBA season on an indefinite hiatus.

The Warriors held the league’s worst record at the stoppage, and will not be among the 22 teams returning to action later this summer in Orlando. But The Action Network’s Matt Moore believes the upside-down NBA calendar will end up playing to the Warriors’ benefit.

After five straight runs to the NBA Finals (an extra 105 playoff games) Golden State’s roster will get nine months of rest before the league’s ideal start date sometime in December. Players like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who already sat out much of the season with injury, will get additional time to heal and return to peak physical condition. Meanwhile, the rest of the Warriors’ Western Conference rivals in 2020-21 will be dealing with the stress and unique circumstances of playing neutral-site games on the other side of the country for multiple months, and won’t have a long layoff before training camps are expected to open.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Golden State also faces the best odds of any team in the upcoming NBA Draft Lottery, which just was rescheduled for August 25. The Warriors have a 52 percent at a top-four draft pick, and will be able to pair an uber-talented young player with a healthy Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green.

Then there’s the unrelenting lust Warriors fans (and reportedly the front office) have for reigning NBA MVP Giannis Anteotokounmpo. If the Milwaukee Bucks come up short of a title in this strange, Disney-hosted NBA Playoffs, Giannis could reach his breaking point with the organization after seven seasons without even an appearance in the NBA Finals.

The Warriors could dangle Green, Andrew Wiggins and potentially the No. 1 overall pick, something not many teams around the NBA could match. Plus if (and this is a pretty big if) Giannis goes to Milwaukee management and demands a trade to only the Warriors, the Bucks’ front office wouldn’t have much choice in the matter. He’s made no indication of wanting to leave Milwaukee, but things can change very quickly in the NBA.

[RELATED: Steve Kerr, Warriors need more time to prepare for 2020 NBA Draft]

Finally, there’s the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, which should be in place before the start of next season. Moore cites league sources as interpreting the details to potentially work out very well for the Warriors. With an easing of luxury tax penalties, potentially “smoothing” salary cap implications over several seasons and a severe cut to revenue sharing, Golden State won’t be hit nearly as hard by these guidelines as many other small-market teams. The salary cap will decrease, but so will the ramifications for exceeding it.

An extended offseason, very favorable NBA Draft Lottery odds, the potential trade capital to land a superstar and a new CBA all stand to improve the Warriors' chances at a championship in 2020-21.

This isn’t to say that Golden State won’t be impacted by the economic impact of the coronavirus shutdown just like the rest of the country, but the circumstances of the NBA’s return absolutely are advantageous for the organization going into next season.

Why Steve Kerr believes NBA will allow Warriors to hold 'minicamp'

Why Steve Kerr believes NBA will allow Warriors to hold 'minicamp'

The Warriors' last game before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic came on March 10.

On Thursday, the league announced that its tentative plan for the 2020-21 campaign is for training camps to open Nov. 10 with Opening Night scheduled for Dec. 1.

"The one thing that we are interested in is doing some kind of a minicamp if the league will allow it," Golden State coach Steve Kerr told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami this week. "Otherwise, eight months is a long time to go without any basketball at all. And that's what it would be.

"We'd like to get together for some kind of minicamp or two. I'm thinking that the league will allow us to do something, especially given that 22 teams are gonna be playing and eight of us are not. I'm fairly certain the league will allow the other eight teams to do some practicing at some point whenever the time is right."

Warriors players were allowed to begin using Chase Center facilities this week for voluntary workouts. But that's very different from the entire team and coaching staff getting together in an official capacity.

If the NBA allows the Dubs the ability to congregate, would this include Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green?

"Oh yeah, 100 percent," Kerr said. "This is different, but everything's different now. I have no doubt our players would be all-in. It would almost be like (how) NFL teams have their OTAs.

"That's what I picture -- where we get everybody together and we're able to install offensive actions that we want to run next year, defensive schemes -- that kind of thing."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Klay has not played since he tore his left ACL during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals on June 13, and Steph appeared in only five games this season.

The Warriors very much want Andrew Wiggins to get accustomed to playing with the "Splash Brothers" and Draymond Green, so any practice time would be beneficial.

[RELATED: Why Kerr, Warriors need more time to prepare for the draft]

Furthermore, it's very important for young players like Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole and Alen Smailagic to continue their development.

"Get our guys on the training table and in the weight room and with our strength coaches for checkups," Kerr explained. "They're all on programs right now and they're doing certain things, but they're not really able to work with our staff."

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