TORONTO (AP) — Marc Gasol’s highest-scoring game since joining the Toronto Raptors came at the perfect time — Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
He scored 20 points, busting out of a slump in a variety of places: at the rim, from midrange, on the foul line, beyond the arc.
All different, yet with one thing in common — Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t on the floor for any of them.
That may change Sunday night. It’s spelled center in the U.S., centre in Canada, and either way that position battle may tell the tale when the Raptors host the Warriors in Game 2 of the title matchup.
Cousins logged only eight minutes in his first game since recovering from a serious quadriceps injury, and it would shock nobody if the Warriors called on him for more as the series goes along.
“He did some good things. That was a good first step,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Saturday when assessing Cousins’ performance in Game 1. “So we have to figure out now as a staff, as a team, where does that leave us? Do we increase the minutes? Do we change the role at all? Those are all things we have been discussing.”
The answers may be critical.
For as elaborate as certain elements of NBA offenses are, the Raptors operate under a fairly simple pretense — find the open guy. They did that often in Game 1, with Gasol one of the main reasons why. When he’s camped out at the 3-point line, Gasol creates space. When the Warriors aimed to take that space away, he found room to maneuver elsewhere.
“If the rotation happens and they leave somebody else open, my nature is to make the extra pass,” Gasol said. “If they stay home, it is my job to knock it down.”
When he was struggling to find ways to get any shots to fall in the Eastern Conference finals against Milwaukee, Raptors coach Nick Nurse hinted that lineup changes were coming and the suggestion seemed to be that Gasol would be coming out of the lineup. Turns out, Nurse really had no intention to sit Gasol. He merely had a chat with him, trying to settle him down.
“Doesn’t hurt,” Gasol said. “I don’t know if it helped or not, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have your coach say, ‘Hey, it’s OK.'”
The thing Nurse was certain of, when it came to Gasol, that the biggest moments were not going to be too big for a veteran of his stature.
“He’s not only played in a lot of big NBA games, but he’s played on the international stage at the highest level,” Nurse said. “I think he has a couple silver medals under his belt or something like that.”
Nobody’s playing for a silver medal in this series.
And even though it’s just one game, the Warriors surely feel some sort of urgency now. Even heading home for Games 3 and 4, a 2-0 hole in the title series would be daunting.
That’s why the decision on Cousins’ role is one Kerr isn’t taking lightly. A misstep now is a big problem, even for Golden State.
“I feel fine,” Cousins said. “The adjustments, we’ll make those according to what we see fit. We’ll take it from there.”
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