LOS ANGELES — The Warriors’ bench erupted into applause with 8:51 left in their 112-94 win over the Clippers at Staples Center on Friday night. As DeMarcus Cousins, grinning, joined them on the sideline, Golden State reserves stood to high-five him and pat him on the back.
Never mind that Cousins had needed only 15 minutes to foul out. In his first game back from a torn left Achilles tendon that had sidelined him almost a year, Cousins showed flashes of his dominance, amplifying those bemoaning an end to competitive balance in the NBA.
Though Cousins didn’t exactly resemble the transcendent talent many have dubbed the most skilled big man in the world, he got more comfortable as the night progressed. By the early stages of the third quarter, Cousins was mixing between pinpoint bounce passes, driving layups and three-pointers.
It was easy to envision just how daunting of a matchup Golden State, with five All-Stars in their prime, will be for opposing defenses. Focused on limiting Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Clippers left Cousins wide open much of the night.
Cousins’ final stat line — 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting (3-for-4 from three-point range), six rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block — should be considered an unmitigated success for a 6-foot-11, 270-pound center coming back from an injury known to end careers. Per Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first Warriors starting center since Anthony Tolliver on March 17, 2010 to make at least three three-pointers.
Golden State will try not to over-react to Cousins’ debut. From the front office’s perspective, his start Friday was merely the next phase in a year-long rehab process. It will be weeks, perhaps even months, before Cousins has his rhythm completely back.
Photo: Kelvin Kuo / Special To The Chronicle
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Still, Cousins gave head coach Steve Kerr plenty to appreciate. After picking up three fouls in four minutes, he seemed to calm down, taking open shots and finding open teammates.
The Warriors, understandably, were intent on feeding him early. After a couple of awkward possessions, Cousins set a screen for Durant, rolled hard to the rim and threw down a one-handed dunk. As his teammates erupted from the bench in glee, Cousins unleashed a roar, seemingly exorcising the memory of what he has called the longest year of his life.
The months spent in isolation rehabbing and wondering whether he’d ever return to an All-Star level had led to that moment. After being a go-to option on Sacramento and New Orleans, Cousins can play without the burden of leadership and focus on his strengths.
In September, after a film session during training camp, his new teammates promised Cousins to do whatever they needed to ease his transition. With Cousins finally in uniform Friday, they continued to make good on their vow.
Even his subtle contributions were met with applause from Golden State’s bench. Midway through the second quarter, after watching Montrezl Harrell not get whistled for what he thought was a foul on Cousins, Green unleashed on referees and was assessed a technical foul.
With Cousins, Curry (28 points), Durant (24 points) and Green (nine assists, eight rebounds) leading the way, the Warriors opened the third quarter on a 14-2 run to seize a 13-point lead. The outcome was no longer in doubt by the time Cousins was whistled for his sixth foul and took his seat on the bench.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/warriors/article/Despite-fouling-out-Cousins-impresses-in-debut-13546319.php.