By LARRY VAUGHT
This was the kind of game DeMarcus Cousins had been waiting a long time to have in the NBA Finals.
Of course, the former University of Kentucky star had never played in the NBA Finals during his first eight years in the league and it looked like he might not be around for the Finals when he suffered a torn quad in mid-April in Golden State’s second playoff game. However, when Golden State needed him most Sunday night, he delivered.
After missing six weeks, he had played eight minutes in the Game 1 loss. On Sunday he played 28 minutes and responded with 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks in a 109-104 victory that evened the series.
“He was great. We came in thinking, all right, he can maybe play 20 minutes and he gave us almost 28. There was only one time in the game when he needed a rest, which was mid-fourth and we gave him a couple minutes and then got him back in the game,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “But 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.
“He feels good in there right now and we have a couple days before Game 3, so we do feel confident that we can continue to get good minutes from him. We’re going to need them, obviously, with all these injuries.”
Golden State star Steph Curry described Cousins as “special” in a game he had to be for the Warriors to win and overcome injuries to two other players with star Kevin Durant already out with a leg injury.
“Playing aggressive when he’s out there, puts a lot of pressure on their defense. And even on our defensive end, making his presence felt blocking shots, being in the right place at the right time. It’s a big lift for us,” Curry said. “I know he’s been waiting a long time to be on this stage. Obviously with his injuries, he’s taken the challenge of inserting himself and making that transition smooth. So it’s been fun to watch. More to come.”
That’s what Golden State forward Draymond Green is counting on, too.
“DeMarcus hasn’t played much basketball over the course of the last 18 months (he had an Achilles injury that sidelined him for about a year before tearing his quad). So the more he plays, the better feel he gets,” Green said after Sunday’s win. “Putting him in the starting lineup I think it was big. Obviously they want to attack him on the defensive end, but you watch the film, he didn’t give up much on the defensive end in Game 1.
“Similar to tonight, he was great on both ends as well. So 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.”
Cousins said it was nice to pay back teammates he has had to lean on this year during his two different rehab periods.
“This was an incredible moment for me. But I’m not satisfied and I’m looking forward to Game 3,” Cousins said Sunday.
He said he was “cool” to get to start but he was fine what whatever Kerr wanted or needed.
“If it’s coming off the bench, if it’s starting, if it’s playing eight minutes or 40, I’m cool with whatever. So I just want to come in and help the team with whatever’s needed. When I step on the floor, I’m going to leave it out there,” Cousins said.
“I want to be on this stage. This is what I’ve worked for my entire career, to be on this stage, to have this opportunity to play for something. But 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. So I put the work in and the time in and with God’s grace I’m able to be out here and play the game that I love.
“So with that, 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.”