OAKLAND - For much of the regular season, the Warriors wondered what life would be with the integration of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.
Following a rigorous rehab, the big brought a combination of offensive skill, size and ability not seen during Golden State's championship runs over the last five years. The one-year marriage was supposed to yield Cousins' first postseason appearance and a dominant playoff run from the champs.
Those plans were canceled three minutes into Game 2 of the first round of the NBA playoffs Monday night, when Cousins tumbled to the ground reaching for a loose ball against the Los Angeles Clippers. He tore his left quadriceps, effectively ending his season and putting Golden State in a familiar position as a team without an All-Star center.
"DeMarcus most likely will not be back during the playoffs," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said following practice Wednesday afternoon. "We're probably looking at a couple of months recovery so it's unlikely."
The Warriors will start veteran Andrew Bogut in Cousins' place. Bogut played most of this season in his native Australia, and was conveniently signed a month ago in case the team needed frontcourt depth. Bogut's place in the lineup will be aided by an uptick in minutes for Kevon Looney -- who is averaging 12.5 points and five rebounds per game in the playoffs -- as well as Jordan Bell and Jonas Jerebko as the postseason progresses.
"We have some depth," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "Signing Bogut now is even more important. Loon has been great and JB gotta make sure he's ready, as well as Jonas. You never know how it's going to go."
As Golden State progresses in the postseason, it's hard not to feel for Cousins. More than a year ago he tore his left Achilles tendon as a member of the Pelicans, sparking an intense rehab program coupled with the uncertainty of looming free agency.
When he returned to the court, he eventually blossomed. Cousins averaged 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds on 50 percent shooting in his last 19 regular-season games, including a 28-point, 13 rebound performance against the Denver Nuggets that helped Golden State secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Now, Cousins finds himself in the same position as last summer, staring down another long recovery process.
"He went through a lot of dark days." said Andrew Bogut, who went through a grueling rehab of his own after fracturing his ankle in 2012. "He was in some dark days over the last 12 months with the Achilles. I'm sure he felt like the light was at the end of the tunnel and he was good, playing basketball again, in the first postseason of his career. Potentially going deep into the playoffs and this happens."
"I'm just crushed for DeMarcus," Kerr added. "He's been waiting his whole career for this and in the second game he goes down after putting all that work in to recover from the Achilles. He's had a great season for us, he's really come along in the last month or so."
Since the injury, teammates and coaches alike have reached out to Cousins, who isn't expected around the team in the short term. Kerr texted well-wishes in the days following Game 2, but the common consensus from the team has been to give the center some space as he starts another long recovery process.
"Trying to find that balance of giving a guy encouragement but also giving him space," Green said. "Who knows what's going through his mind right now. So in a situation like that, I like to err on the side of [letting] a guy gather his thoughts. So many times we talk and tell a guy this and tell a guy that, let that man go through his emotions. Like, however he feels he needs to do that, do that. So many times we think we have the answers [and] we don't. So whatever that emotion is, let him experience that."
For the Warriors, this is familiar territory. In the last three seasons, they've endured a long-term injury to one of their key contributors. During the first round of the playoffs in 2016, Stephen Curry sustained right knee sprain. A year later, Kevin Durant missed 19 games, arriving just before the playoffs. Last season, another knee injury kept Curry out the first round of the postseason. Two of those seasons finished with the Warriors in sole possession of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Even without Cousins out of the lineup, a third straight championship remains a more than attainable goal for this team.
"We've lost guys in recent years that have been extremely important to what we do and we're still able to come out with a championship because its that next man up mentality, and the next guy got to be ready and give the team what he can give them," Green said. "I don't think anybody can give us exactly what DeMarcus gives us but in saying that, we still need guys to play their role."