OAKLAND -- Thursday's matchup between the Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers was billed as DeMarcus Cousins' toughest test yet in his return from a torn Achilles tendon. The test being Philadelphia's center Joel Embiid, one of few humans in the NBA that actually holds a size advantage over Cousins.
The Warriors' big man definitely passed the test, all things considered. He won the battle -- well, at least the first portion. But Embiid and the Sixers won the war, 113-104 at Oracle Arena.
"He's a great player," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Embiid. "He's got an old school low-post game and he'll go down on the block and he did a good job, but I thought we played solid defense on him. [Kevon Looney] did the best he could giving up a lot of size. I thought DeMarcus battled him, but he's a great player."
Things started much better for Cousins and the Warriors than they finished. Golden State raced out to a 20-12 lead midway through the opening quarter, at which point Philadelphia seemed to have no answer for Cousins. Sure, he had two points and a couple of boards, but it was his five assists in the first six minutes that really caused the Sixers problems.
"I'm just trying to make the right play," Cousins said of his first-quarter assists. "That's my whole objective every night is to go in and make the right play. Just finding a cutting man, finding an open shooter or making a play myself. I'm just out ther trying to make the right play."
His defense against Embiid in the early portion was equally impressive. When Cousins checked out with 5:57 remaining in the first frame, Embiid had accounted for zero points, one rebound and four turnovers.
Philadelphia's center totalled just a single point and three rebounds in the first quarter, but Embiid found his (extremely large) footing shortly thereafter. He went into halftime one rebound away from a double-double, and was a one-man wrecking crew in a third quarter that saw the 76ers outscore the Warriors 42-26.
Embiid finished the night with 26 points and 20 rebounds. Cousins finished with seven and six, to go along with six assists and three steals.
Simply put, the matchup leaned more in Embiid's favor as the game wore on. That's to be expected, given Embiid's immense talent level, and Cousins' ongoing rehab.
"Obviously he's still coming back from an injury," Embiid said of Cousins. "I have a lot of respect for him. There was a lot of trash talk going on, but he's a great player and it's great."
Despite the fact Embiid won the head-to-head matchup and the game, Cousins came away ncouraged that better days are ahead.
"Obviously, I'm still not where I want to be," Cousins said after the loss. "I'm working my tail off every day to get back to being that player or better. This process isn't over for me ... just be patient with me."
The Warriors will play the 76ers one more time in the regular season, in Philadelphia on Mar. 2. Assuming no setbacks along the way, one would imagine Cousins will have shaken off considerable rust by then, and perhaps the individual center matchup is a different story that day.
But even if it isn't, it's not as if Embiid is a dime a dozen in the NBA. The Warriors likely won't encounter another center of his size and skill level throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs.
If Cousins' performance on Thursday is an indicator of what's to come, the Warriors have to be feeling great about their own big man in the middle.