The Golden State Warriors won Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night but they lost Kevin Durant after the two-time Finals MVP left the game in the second quarter after suffering a right Achilles’ injury. Coach Steve Kerr and the rest of the squad will now have to hope DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time all-star center working his way back from injury, can pick up the slack.
Cousins has concerns of his own — he missed 52 regular-season games due to injury and was active for just seven of Golden State’s 21 games this postseason — but the 6-foot-11, 270-pound heavyweight came alive after Durant went down, scoring 14 points in Game 5 with six rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 20 minutes.
“I thought DeMarcus was fantastic tonight,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr told the Mercury News. “He stayed ready. He didn’t get the first call for that second-quarter run. We went to [Andrew] Bogut and then with the [Durant] injury we knew we needed his scoring and he stayed ready and played a brilliant game.”
Cousins hasn’t played many minutes with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green without Durant on the court (38 minutes during the playoffs) yet there is no decline in production. Curry, Thompson, Green and Durant, without Cousins, outscored opponents by 4.6 net points per 100 possessions during this postseason run. Substituting Cousins for Durant resulted in outscoring opponents by 11.5 net points per 100 possessions. Some of that disparity is certainly due to a small sample size but it’s at least encouraging news for Dub Nation after the loss of Durant.
Obviously, no one will confuse Durant and Cousins on the court — the former relies on getting buckets in transition and in isolation while the latter roams down low in the post and as a spot-up shooter — but there is some overlap in their skill-sets, namely the ability to handle the ball, run in transition, make clutch shots and pass to open teammates. In fact, the defensive attention Cousins draws as a scoring threat allows him to put the ball on the floor one-on-one or dish it out to either Curry or Thompson on the perimeter, should the defense risk leaving them to help stop Cousins in the paint.
The Warriors can also use Cousins as a screener, a play type the team scores a league-high 1.1 points per possession during the regular season and playoffs combined, or the roll man in pick-and-rolls, a less-effective set but still one that utilizes Cousins’s ability to shoot from behind the arc (33 percent in his career). Toronto, meanwhile, has allowed over half (57 percent) of the catch-and-shoot opportunities against them in the playoffs to be classified as “unguarded” by Synergy Sports tracking system.
Cousins will have to make sure he doesn’t draw offensive fouls like the one he committed as a screener late in the fourth quarter of Game 5, launching his left shoulder into Curry’s defender, Fred VanVleet, giving the Raptors a chance to end the series, on their final possession of the game. Luckily for Golden State, Toronto failed to convert the opportunity but that infraction was timely enough to add almost 17 percentage points to the Raptors win expectancy, a huge number for a single play late in the game.
His defensive awareness has to improve, too. Post contributor Mo Dakhil, who is also a former NBA video coordinator for the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Spurs, noted Cousins and Andre Iguodala didn’t appear to be on the same page during a Raptors hand off between Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, leading to an open three-point attempt by Gasol late in the second quarter.
Dakhil also highlighted how Toronto’s pick-and-roll, adapted from the Spanish league where “a screen is set for the ballhandler, then a third player sets a screen on the player defending the man rolling to the rim,” caused a mismatch when Cousins was forced to switch on to point guard Kyle Lowry, leading to two points for Lowry on a drive to the rim.
Even if Cousins minimizes his faults, it won’t be easy for Golden State to mount a comeback. According to WhoWins, teams like the Raptors with home-court advantage who lead the series 3-2 in the NBA Finals go on to win a championship 89 percent of the time. The oddsmakers, like the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas, have Toronto as the money-line favorite (-360, meaning you have to wager $360 to win $100) in the series. The forecast at FiveThirtyEight gives the Raptors an 82 percent chance to hang a championship banner at Scotiabank Arena (most likely in seven games) and the betting markets are only slightly less optimistic at 74 percent.
No pressure, Boogie.