Less than three minutes into the first quarter, DeMarcus Cousins raced down the court in transition, got deep into the paint with Al Horford on his back, kicked out to Klay Thompson, erased Kyrie Irving on a screen, and freed up Thompson for an easy 3. It was a microcosm of what he’s going to add to an already formidable team: a sizeable threat in the post, a monster floor spacer on the perimeter, and a smart, mindful player that just adds to the total basketball IQ of the Warriors.
Obviously, Cousins isn’t even healthy yet. He’s on a 20-minute restriction right now, but when he’s on the floor, his gravity and weight can be felt even if he’s only 70-80% back from his Achilles injury. For now, his role on the All-Star starting lineup of the Warriors is sort of as a fifth Beatle and even in that capacity, he’s a problem. The Warriors might have been the pioneers of small ball and the modern NBA, but in Boogie, they added an old school bully to their mix.
When asked how he feels about playing as a facilitator on such a talented team, Cousins said, “I do enjoy it. I’m a big body out there. I can get guys open, easier shots. That’s something that I watch when I was sitting on the sidelines. How can I make the guys out there, their jobs, easier.” Those words should sound familiar to Boston fans because that’s the role that Al Horford has adopted ever since he joined the team three years ago.
For the Celtics--when they visit Golden State in March and if this is a Finals preview--they’ll have to figure out how to deal with this added element to the Warriors’ arsenal. A cursory look at the box score will tell you Al Horford won the match up. Cousins finished with a modest 15 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes. Despite some late game turnovers, “Average Al” had one of his best games of the year with 22 points and 13 rebounds in the third most minutes he’s played all season. More importantly, he finished a +9 to Cousins -8.
However, in a potential seven-game series, a healthier Cousins could be a handful for Horfordalone. Against the 76ers and Joel Embiid, Brad Stevens has often gone with Aron Baynes in long stretches to wrestle with Embiid in the paint. It was a match up that Bobby pointed out in the pregame. Last night, Baynes didn’t play in the second half and instead, Daniel Theis filled in those minutes at the 5. It was a curious decision. Baynes had played well since returning from his hand injury and been a spark during the winning streak.
It’s possible that on March 5th when the Celtics are back at Oracle (where they’ve won two out of the last three meetings), we could see some Horford-Baynes minutes. It’s something that Stevens has hinted to recently, but a duo he didn’t go with in Round 1 vs. the Warriors. Part of it could be Stevens’ hesitancy of putting Baynes in a lot of switches which might account for his decision to go with the quicker Theis in the second half. Part of it might have been Baynes’ fit against a smaller second unit. Regardless, if Boston is going to have any success against the Warriors, they now have to account for Cousins. For the last few days, the Celtics and Warriors have been a mutual admiration society, talking about how similar they are and how they bring the best out of their games. Danny Ainge had seemingly geared the construction of the roster to combat GSW's small ball versatility. But with the addition of Cousins, the Warriors have raised the bar even higher.