DeMarcus Cousins’ Passing Gives The Warriors An Added Dynamic On Offense

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DeMarcus Cousins is still, very obviously, not 100 percent physically. This isn’t necessarily a surprise, as Boogie tore a muscle in his left quadriceps seven weeks ago and is playing despite the fact he wasn’t expected to return during the postseason. Instead, he came back for the NBA Finals, and in Game 2, Cousins played a major role in the Golden State Warriors evening up the series with the Toronto Raptors.

His first action in the series was less than ideal. Cousins looked like he was some combination of rusty and still exremely injured in eight minutes off the bench in Game 1, struggling to move and get into the flow of the game. The Warriors wanted to feed him the ball — he had 22 touches in 8:03 compared to 28 touches in 28:20 for Kevon Looney, per NBA.com — but it just didn’t quite work out.

Still, Steve Kerr thought it would be wise to replace Game 1 starter Jordan Bell with Cousins. It still took Cousins a little to get into the flow of the game, and in response, the Raptors attacked him repeatedly, especially on defense. Of their first 11 possessions, seven were not in transition, and all but one of them featured Marc Gasol, at one point or another, setting a ball screen with the hopes of getting Cousins to switch onto Kawhi Leonard. Of the remaining four possessions that involved Toronto getting out and running, two saw Cousins pick up Kyle Lowry, and both of those times, Lowry attempted a shot.

It was a classic case of a team hunting a matchup. By the Raptors’ estimation, their best bet was that they could play Cousins off the floor. Seeing as how he picked up two fouls in the opening 3:42, both of which were a direct result of Gasol and Leonard seeking him out and getting Cousins switched onto the Raptors’ star forward, that was a safe bet.

Cousins, of course, ended up playing an invaluable 27:37 in Game 2 and tied with Steph Curry and Draymond Green for the best +/- of the night for the Warriors. After the game, Kerr heaped praise on the performance Cousins put forth, saying the original plan was for him to play 20 minutes or so.

“He was fantastic and we needed everything he gave out there, his rebounding, his toughness, his physical presence, getting the ball in the paint, and just playing big, like he does,” Kerr said. “We needed all of that.”

There are so many ways Cousins can impact a game, even when he’s hobbled. He can hit shots and score down low, and he’s always enjoyed battling in the paint to inhale missed shots, which is something the Warriors need in this series against guys like Leonard, Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam. Cousins is also, by nature of being a gigantic human and a smart basketball player, a wonderful screen setter, which is a fun card to have in your back pocket when your guards are Curry and Klay Thompson. Here’s an example of this, which doubled as Cousins’ first assist in Game 2.

An underrated area where Cousins lifts the Warriors is in his distribution. He’s not particularly fleet of foot, but Cousins’ inherent ability to set up teammates — sometimes in rather impressive ways — opens things up for Golden State’s offense. Like Gasol, Cousins is a talented passer for someone his size, blessed with a fun mix of court vision and touch when he’s tasked with initiating.

This was on display during his second assist of the evening, which came amid the team’s monster third quarter run. Cousins pulled down a miss and decided to push the ball up the floor on his own, something that appeared to irk Green. But what Green might not have anticipated was that Cousins saw Andre Iguodala, who was picked up by Gasol, streaking to the corner, and when Thompson dove to the rim, Gasol’s natural instinct was to prevent a shot right at the rim.

Iguodala was left wide open, and the second Gasol turned his back to the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, Cousins fired a pass into the corner. Three seconds later, the Warriors took a lead they would not relinquish.

The Warriors assisted on all 22 of their made baskets in the second half, an incredible accomplishment in its own right. No one had more assists in the second half than Cousins, who got five of his six in the game’s final 24 minutes. Between that and his tenacious rebounding — seven of his 10 boards came in the second half — the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 16 points in the nearly 17 minutes Cousins was on the floor after halftime.

Cousins’ brilliance as a passer was at its most evident when he was putting his teammates in spots to score near the basket. Three of his second half assists led directly layups, the first of which came when he got out ahead of his teammates and posted up on the block. There was a whole lot of space on the opposite block, which led to Thompson darting to the rim. Cousins whipped a one-handed pass in, Leonard couldn’t get a hand on it, and Thompson got the bucket.

Two minutes, later, the Warriors went to the well once more. This time, it was a two-man game by Thompson and Cousins — the former had the ball far behind the three-point line, while Cousins demanded the ball on the wing. The only person in the paint was Lowry, who was unable to stop the taller Thompson from converting at the rim after a gorgeous bounce pass from Cousins.

Fast forward to the fourth frame, when Cousins used the fact that he’s 6’11 to see over the Raptor defense and find Shaun Livingston, who just inbounded him the ball, wide open under the rim. Lowry contested the layup attempt, but Livingston picked up two points.

Golden State’s sharpshooters are always a threat to get white hot and kill you from deep. In fact, Cousins’ fifth assist on the night came when their best bench shooter, Quinn Cook, was open on the wing and the center found him after overpowering a double-team. But one fun characteristic of the Warriors over their current run has been their team-wide intelligent movement off the ball. Draymond Green often serves as the catalyst for Golden State, but they become even more dangerous when Cousins is also able to facilitate in this role, which was on display in the second half of Game 2.

The collarbone injury that will keep Looney out for the remainder of the Finals means Cousins’ workload is going to increase, regardless of how his leg is feeling. He’s certainly up for the challenge — after Game 2, Cousins made it clear that he’s relishing this opportunity, saying, “I’ve seen how quick this game can be taken away from you, so every chance I get to go out there and play, I’m going to leave it on the floor.”

The Warriors have plenty of other injury questions — from Thompson’s hamstring, to Iguodala’s banged up leg, to Kevin Durant’s lingering calf problem — that makes it unclear who will and will not take the floor on a given night. This increases the importance of the players they can confidently say will take the floor every game, and as he showed in Game 2, Cousins is prepared to find ways to help the Warriors win their third ring in a row.

(Videos via NBA.com/Stats)