After not seeing a single second of playing time in the Clippers ’ seven-game first-round victory over the Dallas Mavericks, it was presumed DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins would be similarly glued to the bench in the second round, this time against the top-seeded Utah Jazz.
So when the former All-NBA center entered Game 1 on Tuesday, with two minutes gone in the second quarter and the Clippers leading 30-23, many onlookers were, to say the least, surprised.
But if Boogie’s mere presence on the floor was cause for surprise, then what he did right away could only be described as shocking. On Utah’s first possession with Cousins in the game, Jazz forward Joe Ingles drove the lane and threw a bounce pass to a trailing Rudy Gobert, often an unstoppable force when rolling to the basket, but Cousins did not give ground. After altering Gobert’s path with some nifty footwork, Cousins snatched the ball from the big man’s clutches and initiated a Clippers fast break that ended with an “and-1” layup by Boogie himself.
A Promising Start Turns to Disappointment
It was an electrifying start for Cousins, whose last minutes came on May 14, but the highlights didn’t stop there. Three minutes later, the 6-foot-10 Cousins nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, then drew an offensive foul on Gobert on Utah’s ensuing possession.
It would’ve been Cousins’s second drawn charge — and Gobert’s second foul overall (he ended the game with five) — if not for the fact that, two minutes earlier, Utah had successfully challenged a Gobert bucket that was initially deemed an offensive foul. The replay review showed that Cousins was still moving as he contested Gobert’s shot, and so the Utah big man was awarded the bucket plus a foul shot, which he sank. The three-point swing was big for the Jazz, who had managed only five field goals in the first quarter and were struggling to keep pace with Los Angeles in the second.
After picking up his third foul, with six minutes to play in the second and the Clippers up 13, Cousins came out of the game, having posted six points, three rebounds and one block in just under four minutes. At halftime, Clippers coach Ty Lue was applauded for pushing the right buttons.
But, despite Cousin’s solid showing and social media’s approval, Lue opted to keep Cousins on the bench for the entire second half — a move that, in the wake of the Clippers losing 112-109, didn’t sit well with some Clippers fans.
Lue Indicates More Minutes for Boogie
It remains to be seen exactly how much Cousins will play going forward, but on Wednesday, when reporters asked about Boogie and point guard Patrick Beverley, Lue suggested that they will both have roles in the series.
“Yeah, you will see them some more,” said Lue . “Some tough decisions to be made going into Game 2 tomorrow, but I did like what I saw from Pat and Boogie.”
The Clippers began Game 1 with the same small-ball lineup that ultimately worked against Dallas, and it could be their best bet for pulling Gobert, the presumptive NBA Defensive Player of the Year, out of the paint where he is most disruptive. Obviously, the 270-pound Cousins, who has been decimated in recent years by leg injuries, is not a great fit for any such small lineups.
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When the Clippers did have occasion to go big in the second half, all the minutes at center went to 24-year-old Ivica Zubac, who is better defensively than Cousins but lacks the offensive skills that made Boogie a top point-getter in his younger years. In 21 minutes, Zubac had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots on 3-for-5 shooting. It was a solid performance from Zubac, and on Wednesday Lue discussed the difficulty of finding time for Cousins.
“We’ve got to find more minutes for him,” Lue said. “It’s just hard to play two centers off the bench when you start small, so that was the tough part about it. But I did like what he brought. Brought some toughness, brought some physicality, and we’re going to need that this series.”
No matter what Lue ultimately decides, there’s no doubting Cousins’s desire to contribute, which Lue also touched on Wednesday.
“He was very fired up,” Lue said. “Players want to play, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Like I said, every time we’ve given him the opportunity to play in big games this season, he’s produced.”