• Alder Almo

2019 NBA Finals: What’s at Stake for DeMarcus Cousins

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the din of Andre Igoudala’s late-game heroics that saved the Golden State Warriors from going down 0-2 in the Finals was DeMarcus Cousins’ big game in his second game back from a quad injury.

Cousins was Steve Kerr’s trump card in Game 2 as the former All-Star big man put his stamp on this series in his first career start in the Finals.

After warming up for an 8-minute, off-the-bench stint in Game 1, Cousins got the starting nod and rewarded Kerr’s faith with the kind of game that tilted the favor back to the three-peat seeking Warriors.

After a scoreless first quarter that was marred by two quick fouls, Cousins finished strong with 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 28 minutes.

"He was great," Kerr said afterwards. "He was fantastic, and we needed everything he gave out there – his rebounding, his toughness, his physical presence, getting the ball in the paint and just playing big, like he does. We needed all of that.”

More importantly, he held Marc Gasol, who had 20 points in Game 1, down to just six points on 2-of-7 shooting. He was a plus-12 on the floor while also giving the Warriors another dimension to their game, which they have lacked since Kevin Durant went down with an injury.

“Tonight he (Cousins) was huge for us,” said Draymond Green who also put up a stellar all around effort with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. “Putting him in the starting lineup, I think it was big. It allowed us to play through him some in the post. They got to honor that, or we know what he's capable of if they don't."

Curry, who missed his first six shots, benefited from the attention Cousins commanded in the post as he went on to make six of his next 11 shots to end up with 23 points. So did Klay Thompson, who had a game-high 25 before going out with tightness in his left hamstring.

Cousins was at his best in the pivotal third quarter where the Warriors took control of the game with an 18-0 back-breaking run. The big man connected on a three-pointer, added three rebounds, issued three assists and blocked a shot during that stretch.

Coming into the game, Kerr planned to restrict him to just 20 minutes but an injury to their other center Kevon Looney (broken collar bone) left him with no other recourse.

The question hovering above Cousins’ health after his huff-and-puff initial action in Game 1 was answered in this game.

Back in July, Cousins joined the Golden State Warriors, a dynasty that was stacked with four future Hall of Famers.

With no team willing to take on the risk to pay him big, the four-time All Star bet heavily on himself this season in what he termed as his “ace of spades and his chess move.”

At that time, the Warriors didn’t need him. It was Cousins who needed them to repair his ruptured reputation and his torn Achilles.

But a lot of things have changed since then.

Facing mounting injuries, the Warriors now need Cousins as much as he needs them.

His gamble is starting to pay off. More than chasing a ring, he’s fighting for relevance in the league that shunned him like a plague last July.

His career defining moment in Game 2 has put the other teams on notice that he can fit in and win at a high level.

"I want to be on this stage," Cousins said. "This is what I've worked for my entire career, to be on this stage, to have this opportunity to play for something.”

After two major injuries that changed his perspective, Cousins’ healing process – both physically and mentally – is on its final stage.

“Once they told me I had a chance, a slight chance of being able to return, it basically was up to me and the work and the time I put in behind the injury, it was up to me... I've told y'all before, I don't take any of this for granted. I've seen how quick this game can be taken away from you. So every chance I get to go out there and play, I'm going to leave it on the floor."

Cousins came to Golden State searching for validation. Now he’s got three more games to win with his signature on it to complete his road to redemption.

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