The Golden State Warriors are whole, and they're spectacular.
After sitting out the first 45 games of the season while rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, DeMarcus Cousins made his Warriors debut Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. It could hardly have gone any better.
Playing his first game in nearly a year, the four-time All-Star put up a casual 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal, a block, and a plus-21 on-court rating in just 15 minutes before fouling out, as the Warriors cruised to a 112-94 win.
Here are four takeaways from the game Boogie called "probably one of the best days of my life."
Even knowing what Cousins is capable of and understanding what he might bring to the table, it was difficult to imagine the Warriors' offense becoming more multi-dimensional than it already was. But here was that intellectual exercise brought to life.
Cousins gives the team the kind of inside-out scoring threat it hasn't had in the Steve Kerr era. The Warriors didn't really leverage Cousins as a low-post threat in this game - one of the rare times they did, he got hacked and earned a pair of free throws - but that threat still allowed him to feast from the perimeter. The Clippers knew they had to match him with size, and Boban Marjanovic and Marcin Gortat didn't stand much chance of tracking him out to the 3-point line. On a night when the rest of the team was ice-cold from deep, going 6-for-33, Cousins went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.
The big man immediately becomes one of the Warriors' two best screeners along with Draymond Green. But unlike Green, opposing bigs can't really afford to help off of him when he springs one of his teammates loose. Here, Marjanovic opted to drop down and divert Klay Thompson's drive, ceding the wide-open three:
As if the Warriors didn't already have enough guys who could warp a defense, watch how much attention Cousins draws from the elbow after the switch-happy Clippers wind up with Patrick Beverley on him. And watch how easily he uses that attention against them:
The Warriors assisted on 14 of their 15 baskets with Cousins on the floor. More so than his numbers and individual play, what stood out was how seamlessly he fit into Golden State's ecosystem. There are so many different ways the Warriors can use him, and it feels like they barely scratched the surface.
- Joe Wolfond
The only knock against Cousins was his lackluster defense. He was foul prone and the Clippers carved him up in the pick-and-roll. His lateral movement was noticeably poor, and he couldn't get much lift, especially when he was pushing off his freshly healed left foot.
Cousins can be a dominant defender when healthy, but he looks bulky and slow right now. He even lost track of an over-the-hill Gortat cutting to the basket, which shouldn't happen. Golden State's defensive identity is built around speed and athleticism, and Cousins is an impediment in his current state.
Having said that, Cousins did improve as the game went on. He took a charge on Tobias Harris in the third quarter and poked the ball away from the forward a few possessions later. Cousins also managed to force wild driving misses in the rare instances he didn't commit a foul.
- William Lou
One of the concerns about Cousins' fit in Golden State was that he might slow down his new team. The Warriors are at their best when they're getting out in the open floor, and while Cousins has nimble feet for a player his size, he isn't exactly a burner. It stood to reason he'd have trouble keeping up, especially in his first game back after spending 11-plus months on the shelf.
And yet, while Cousins seemed to be getting his legs under him and preserving energy at the defensive end, he kicked it into high gear when he sensed a chance to get in on a Warriors fastbreak.
It was a small sample, but the Warriors actually played at a faster pace (about three additional possessions per 48 minutes) with Cousins on the floor.
"We played pretty fast," Steph Curry told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson. "If this is the baseline, then I like what we saw. His timing will get better. He had some moments where he got to top-end speed in transition."
Of course, the big test will be whether Cousins can maintain the energy (or the willpower) to hustle back the other way on a consistent basis. Transition defense has always been a bit of an issue for him, particularly after he's turned the ball over or feels he's been short-changed on a call. Time will tell, but this was an encouraging start.
The Warriors have often looked bored of the regular season, but the stakes are real for Cousins, who took a massive discount to recoup his value. He needs to show he's healthy and capable of contributing to a contender, and his teammates seem fully committed to helping him get back on his feet.
Golden State's stars fed Cousins at every opportunity. Kevin Durant slipped him a pocket pass for a pick-and-roll dunk for his first basket and later found him with a hit-ahead pass for a transition layup. Green took a technical for arguing on Cousins' behalf in the second quarter and set him up for two catch-and-shoot threes in the fourth before Cousins fouled out to a standing ovation from the L.A. crowd.
Cousins finished with 11 shot attempts in 15 minutes. In comparison, Durant only took 13 shots in 35 minutes, Green tried seven in 29 minutes, and Klay Thompson had 12 in 34 minutes. Yet there was nothing but love from his aggressively altruistic teammates.