Everything big and small goes right for DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors debut

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LOS ANGELES — It was the little things.

Not that DeMarcus Cousins’ overall line — he fouled out with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and he was +21, all in 15 minutes — was bad at all. In fact, it was pretty damn good. In his first game in nearly a year, Cousins looked like a slightly rusty version of himself. All the trademarks were there, from hitting threes to complaining about calls.

Cousins made the Warriors better from the moment he stepped on the court, and while the big things were obvious it was the little things should worry any challenger to the crown. For example:

• Cousins’ ability to not just score but to be a playmaker out of the midpost adds a new dimension to the Warriors offense.

• Cousins provides versatility to sets the Warriors already run regularly. For example, in the third quarter, he was the guy making the entry pass on the double-screen play the Warriors like, with Draymond Green in the post and Klay Thompson curing off the screens. Cousins set a hard screen that freed Thompson up for a clean look.

• He gives them another three-point shooter, one that creates matchup problems for defenses. The Clippers chose to chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over picks and play on top of them, but that means the big has to drop back and protect against backcuts and drives. Do that with Cousins off the ball and he’s wide open for threes.

“I want to know what the scouting report is on me,” Cousins joked about how open he was from deep.

• Cousins is strong on the offensive glass and that’s going to lead to more kick-out threes for Golden State’s shooters.

• Cousins also gives the Warriors some defense. He’s a big body in the paint who knows how to get in the way. At one point on back-to-back plays Cousins drew a charge on Tobias Harris, then on the next trip down stripped Harris when he drove.

“Like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said of how he felt on the night. “It’s been a long journey… this was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out on the floor again and playing the game that I love.”

Cousins was part of the Warriors picking up their seventh straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94. Curry led the way with 28 points.

Everything went Cousins’ way — he even got a standing ovation from the bench when he fouled out.

“Hopefully that’s the last time we give him a standing ovation when he fouls out, but it was great to see him out there,” Durant said.

“Probably all the fakest love I’ve received in my life,” Cousins joked.

The NBA world shook when Cousins signed with the Warriors last July. Everyone knew it was going to take him a long time to get healthy and right, but Golden State was a team that could be patient and wait for him, not rush him back, and when he did play it would be another weapon to punish switches or just use in their existing sets.

“I thought, good for him. It’s a good spot for him,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said of his reaction when he read about the Cousins signing. “And then I thought, wow, that’s not right.”

Cousins started the game with Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, which meant nobody could really double him.

“This is a first, like in my entire basketball career,” Cousins said of the lack of doubles thrown at him. “I definitely can get used to this.”

Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior was a thunderous dunk, one created because his man had to focus on Durant (and Danilo Gallinari was late with the rotation).

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked.

Cousins said he was nervous before the game but his girlfriend sent him a picture of himself in the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair the day after his surgery. That helped put the journey in perspective.

“It’s been a year since his injury, he’s gone through a long rehab process…” Kerr said before the game. “This is not the end of the story, this is sort of the middle of the story and it’s a milestone but there is a long way to go.”

Cousins is going to get better at things big and small as that journey continues.

Which should scare the rest of the NBA.

LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo pulling ahead as captains for All-Star draft, which will be televised Feb. 7

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After last year’s debacle, the NBA will televise the All-Star draft. Now, we have a firm date: 7 p.m. Eastern Feb. 7 on TNT.

Don’t expect it to be live. LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in line to be captains, and LeBron’s Lakers play the Celtics at 8 p.m. that night. I doubt LeBron will interrupt his pre-game routine for this. He and Antetokounmpo will likely record the draft earlier in the day.

The full fan-voting leaderboards:

Western Conference

Frontcourt

1. LeBron James (LAL) 3,770,807

2. Luka Doncic (DAL) 3,301,825

3. Paul George (OKC) 2,583,342

4. Kevin Durant (GSW) 2,432,134

5. Anthony Davis (NOP) 2,091,770

6. Steven Adams (OKC) 1,483,223

7. Nikola Jokić (DEN) 1,128,766

8. Kyle Kuzma (LAL) 899,237

9. Draymond Green (GSW) 660,276

10. DeMarcus Cousins (GSW) 450,480

Guards

1. Stephen Curry (GSW) 2,979,080

2. Derrick Rose (MIN) 2,712,938

3. James Harden (HOU) 2,315,093

4. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 2,090,432

5. Klay Thompson (GSW) 1,120,675

6. Damian Lillard (POR) 851,125

7. DeMar DeRozan (SAS) 850,415

8. Lonzo Ball (LAL) 764,892

9. Chris Paul (HOU) 419,410

10. Devin Booker (PHO) 405,432

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 3,626,909

2. Kawhi Leonard (TOR) 2,882,227

3. Joel Embiid (PHI) 2,292,511

4. Jayson Tatum (BOS) 826,177

5. Jimmy Butler (PHI) 740,778

6. Blake Griffin (DET) 677,472

7. Vince Carter (ATL) 423,795

8. Pascal Siakam (TOR) 338,716

9. Gordon Hayward (BOS) 336,476

10. Al Horford (BOS) 291,722

Guards

1. Kyrie Irving (BOS) 3,187,015

2. Dwyane Wade (MIA) 1,738,043

3. Kemba Walker (CHA) 1,156,040

4. Ben Simmons (PHI) 941,368

5. Victor Oladipo (IND) 778,983

6. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 708,071

7. Zach LaVine (CHI) 440,568

8. Jeremy Lin (ATL) 341,024

9. Goran Dragic (MIA) 335,899

10. Bradley Beal (WAS) 251,170

The standings are taking shape. Not much movement from the previous returns.

The most significant race is between Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in the Western Conference frontcourt.

LeBron is a lock to start. Luka Doncic probably won’t get enough support in other categories of the All-Star starter formula – 50% fans, 25% players, 25% media – to start despite ranking second in the fan vote. That leaves two starting spots for George, Durant and Davis.

George leads Durant by just 151,208 votes for third place in fan voting. I’m not sure how players and media will rank the two. George is having a better season. Durant is the better player. It could come down to which of the two squeaks by the other in the fan vote, which carries added importance of being the tiebreaker.

I doubt Davis – who trails Durant by 340,364 votes and George by 491,572 votes – will rise in the fan-vote rankings. He’ll have to make up ground with players and media. Which he could do.

At least George, Durant and Davis are all shoe-ins to make the All-Star game. In the long run, we won’t really care who started and who came off the bench.

Bucks owner: Milwaukee rejected Stephen Curry trade before settling on Monta Ellis

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Believe it or not, there was once serious debate whether Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis should be the Warriors’ franchise player.

Golden State settled on Curry, trading Ellis to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut in 2012. Curry went on to lead the Warriors to three championships, win two MVPs and establish himself as the greatest shooter of all-time. After leaving Golden State, Ellis never regained the near-star status he established there.

But how close did the Warriors come to picking Ellis over Curry? Bucks owner Marc Lasry, chiding Warriors owner Joe Lacob’s “light years ahead” comment, suggests Golden State nearly did.

Lasry, via Frank Isola of The Athletic:

“I don’t know if they can be light years ahead if they traded Steph Curry to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut,” Lasry says of a proposed trade before he purchased the Bucks, which has been reported as both fact and urban legend. “That was the deal. But the Bucks’ medical staff didn’t think Steph’s ankle would hold up. That killed the deal. So, I don’t know if that’s being light years. It’s luck. And that’s fine.”

Lasry then smiled and added, “I think we got rid of that medical staff when we bought the team.”

Lasry bought the Bucks with Wesley Edens in 2014, well after these trade negotiations. So, Lasry’s retelling could be based on just hearsay. But his access to inside information is what makes this intriguing.

Really, this entire saga is full of circumstantial evidence.

The trade wouldn’t have worked under the salary cap with Curry’s salary instead of Ellis. But perhaps the teams had a different structure in mind with Curry rather than Ellis.

Former Warriors general manager Larry Riley said he dangled Curry only to get Milwaukee interested and always intended to deal Ellis. But that was after Curry became a superstar, and Riley might have wanted to protect his own reputation.

Tim Kawakami reported he found no evidence Golden State seriously considered trading Curry. But not all trade-negotiation details leak to the media.

I lean toward Lasry just embellishing something he heard, making the story inaccurately juicy. But I can’t say for certain.

Most of Stephen Curry’s 3-pointers on Wednesday were tightly defended

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Stephen Curry made nine 3-pointers last night – which, hey, happens. The Warriors’ elite offense sometimes spring him for open looks, and he’s the greatest shooter of all-time. He takes advantage.

But that wasn’t the case last night. Curry made some ridiculous deep shots despite the Pelicans contesting well.

Per NBA.com, Curry shot 1-for-1 on 3s against “very tight” defense and 4-for-7 on 3s against “tight” defense. The above video shows those stats sure don’t underestimate the degree of difficulty.

I especially enjoyed Steve Kerr’s in-game interview after Curry shot 7-for-8 on 3-pointers in the third quarter. Kerr on ESPN:

I told him right before all that, “Go make six crazy shots in a row.” So, he’s very coachable.

Three Things to Know: Boston plays up to level of its competition, earns win over Toronto

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Boston plays up to the level of its competition, which is enough to earn big win over Toronto. Speaking on behalf of basketball fans everywhere, after watching the last two meetings between these teams, I would like to order seven more of these games for late May. Please. This is a playoff matchup that has to happen.

Now, about last night…

“What is wrong with the Boston Celtics” has been a favorite parlor game around the NBA this season, and while the “too talented” theory and others exist, Wednesday night’s performance and win at home against the Toronto Raptors shed light on maybe the real issue:

These Celtics play to the level of their competition. That gets them in trouble against lesser teams, but when the big guns come to town Boston shows up.

One week ago, the Celtics dismantled a strong Indiana team by 27 points. Boston then turned around and lost to Miami, Orlando, and Brooklyn (the Heat and Nets are .500 teams, the Magic are trying to find their way into the playoffs).

Boston came out Wednesday night like none of those losses happened and played one of its best games of the season to beat Toronto, the team with the best record in the NBA. It was a huge effort led by Kyrie Irving, who had 27 points and a career-high 18 assists, and he outplayed Kawhi Leonard down the stretch of the game (the Kyrie vs. Kawhi duel is what the game became at the end). Irving hit all the big shots.

The Celtics have won 2-of-3 against the Raptors and now are 6-3 overall against Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, and Philadelphia this season. When the Celtics need to raise their game up, they can, they just don’t do it nightly. After the game, to a man, the Celtics said they need to play like this in their upcoming games (struggling Memphis, then at Atlanta, Miami, and Cleveland).

“We have to play all those teams that aren’t the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philly 76ers, we have to play those teams like they are,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “That only helps us, keeps us in a rhythm, a great rhythm and it holds us accountable for doing the right things.”

Irving took the blame for some of that, admitting he had to call LeBron to apologize and talk leadership.

“It just comes with our maturity as a team,” Irving said. “I did a poor job of setting an example for these young guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates. You go and say something publicly and it ends up being received in so many different ways. You never know how fragile or what guys are going through if you say things like that. You’re expecting results but at the same time I should have kept it in-house. Going forward, I want … to get the best out of them but I won’t do it publicly like that.”

Was this win a turning point for Boston? It felt like it, not just in the fact that the had to fight back from behind twice in the game and showed real grit and will, but those postgame comments are a positive. Boston may be learning its lessons and growing into a contender.

Only time will tell. With some soft games on the schedule coming up, we may quickly see if Boston is learning its lessons.

2) Stephen Curry explodes for 23 points in third, Warriors storm back then hold off Pelicans for the win. For the second night in a row, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors put on a basketball fireworks show.

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were playing maybe their best game of the season and were up 16 on Golden State at Oracle Arena, then Curry went on the kind of run they will show in his Hall of Fame career retrospective video — 23 points on 7 threes in the third.

Curry finished with 41 points on 22 shots, hitting 9-of-17 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant had 30 points, maybe scariest of all for coaches who have to game plan against the Warriors Draymond Green shot 4-of-7 from three on his way to 17 points (sagging off Green at the arc has been a thing this season, and for a while now).

The Warriors got the win 147-140 in a game with the most threes made in any game in NBA history (43).

It wasn’t a defensive masterpiece by anyone, but the game had amazing shot making all night long.

It was the second night in a row the Warriors looked like the Warriors, and why they are back as the No. 1 seed in the West.

All of that overshadowed a 30 point, 18 rebound game from Anthony Davis, who reminded everyone why he should be in the MVP conversation even if the Pelicans are three games below .500.

3) James Harden scores 58 but the Rockets still lose to Brooklyn in OT. We could be seeing variations of that headline a lot in the next month — James Harden continues to play at an MVP level, but it’s hard to underestimate just how much Houston is going to miss Clint Capela this season, both on defense and in the overall scheme of how they play. (Capela is out 4-6 weeks with ligament damage in the thumb of his right hand.)

Harden was spectacular again on Wednesday, scoring 58 points.

But the loss of Capela was glaring, and Danuel House Jr. being back in the G-League — because the sides couldn’t agree on how to convert his two-way contract — was a more painful loss than expected.

Also, the Nets just do not quit .

After a P.J. Tucker three, Brooklyn was down eight with 1:02 left in the game. But them Sixth Man of the Year Spencer Dinwiddie drained a key three. Then one more. Then a third — this one to send the game to OT. That’s where the Nets got the win.

Brooklyn is a .500 team with this win — an amazing season considering the roster, the expectations, and the fact this team lost Caris LeVert (their best scorer) for much of the season due to an ankle injury. They are building something in Brooklyn that in a few years could be very special.