OAKLAND - For the first three months of the regular season, as they waited for the services of their prized free agent DeMarcus Cousins as he rehabbed from a torn Achilles, the Warriors trotted out a center-by-committee approach.
The strategy, which let the opponent dictate the starting center, helped Golden State navigate through the onset of the season.
Now, with Cousins injuring his quad in Monday's 131-135 Game 2 first round loss to the Clippers and seemingly out for the foreseeable future, the Warriors are back to a familiar plan.
Three minutes into his second career postseason game, DeMarcus Cousins tumbled to the ground as he reached for a loose ball. After the injury, Cousins tried to walk under his own power, avoiding help from teammates and limping to the locker. League sources confirmed an ESPN report that there's fear that Cousins may have torn his left quad, with one saying the center's prospects are "not good at all."
"There's a pretty significant quad injury," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said following Monday's loss. "We'll get an MRI tomorrow. But he's going to be out for I'll just say a while."
The void left by Cousins put the Warriors in a familiar scenario, as Kevon Looney, Andrew Bogut and Jordan Bell each took turns trying to fill in. Looney did the most damage, finishing with a career-high 19 points and five rebounds. He did most of his work in the second quarter, scoring 10 points, adding three rebounds as the Warriors outscored LA 40-15. During the playoffs, Looney is plus-31 from the floor, averaging 12.5 points and five rebounds in 18.2 minutes.
"My role pretty much stays the same," Looney said. "I'll get my same role, same minutes. I'll probably get a little more time but just bring the energy, try to be a little more aggressive when I get the ball down in the paint."
As Looney's role increases, so will that of Jordan Bell, who's minutes have dwindled over the last eight games after getting suspended for a road game in Memphis.
Fourteen months ago, following the team's preseason finale against the Lakers, Kerr, with Cousins still rehabbing, proclaimed Damian Jones the starting center out of training camp. During the ensuing two months, Jones, Looney, and Bell alternated the starting role. Now, with Jones injured for the season, and Andrew Bogut signed midseason, the team has an idea of how its lineup will look going forward.
"It'll still be matchup based," Bogut said. "But I anticipate probably starting games, playing the first three minutes and then coming out."
As for Cousins, if initial fears prove true following Tuesday's MRI, will begin another extensive rehab process, which takes at least three months, depending on the extent of the tear. More than a year ago, Cousins, then a member of the Pelicans tore his Achilles tendon reaching for a loose ball in the waning moments of a midseason win over the Rockets.
Following the injury, Cousins, in a contract year where he was expected to get a supermax deal, went into rehab not knowing if he would get a fraction of that money. Now, more than 14 months later, he may find himself in the same position heading into what is sure to be an interesting summer.
"I know its frustrating for him," Looney said. "I've been through something like that, getting hurt, getting all the way back and then getting hurt again, so I know how frustrating it is and he is a resilient guy. He's been through adversity before and I know he's going to bounce back."
Throughout the season, many of the Warriors used Cousins' return as a means of motivation to get the center who never played in a postseason game a chance to win a ring and get paid. With Cousins out, the Warriors again find themselves in familiar terrain and will have to fill the void like they did during the onset of the season: By committee.
"We'll rally behind him," Warriors guard Klay Thompson. "Tell him its far from the end of the world, tell him he has so much great basketball ahead of him."
"He'll bounce back," Thompson added. "I know he will. He's a fighter."