After battling through injuries, DeMarcus Cousins comes up big when Warriors need him most

TORONTO — A torn Achilles ruined DeMarcus Cousins’ chance to play in his first NBA playoffs last season with New Orleans. He rehabbed and worked to get back on the court for 30 regular-season games with Golden State this season.

Then, two games into this season’s playoffs, Cousins injured his quadriceps against the Los Angeles Clippers and missed the rest of the first round, all of the Western Conference semifinals and all of the conference finals.

The Warriors wondered if that too was a season-ending injury.

“Once they told me I had a chance, a slight chance of being able to return, it basically was up to me,” Cousins said. “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.”

In Game 2 against Toronto on Sunday – just his second game in nearly seven weeks – Cousins gave the Warriors the performance they needed to avoid a 2-0 hole against the Raptors. 

“It feels great,” Cousins said. “I've leaned on my teammates throughout this moment and throughout this whole process and this was an incredible moment for me. But I'm not satisfied, and I'm looking forward to Game 3."

With injuries mounting for the Warriors, they needed a complete game from Cousins. Starting in place of Jordan Bell, Cousins had 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks as the Warriors evened the series at 1-1 with a 109-104 victory Sunday.

“He was great,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We came in thinking, ‘All right, he can maybe play 20 minutes,’ and he gave us almost 28. … 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.”

The Warriors kept it quiet on the off days between the two games, but internally, the coaching staff decided they needed more size on the court to match Toronto’s lineup with center Marc Gasol.

Cousins got the start.

Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins during the first quarter of Game 2. (Photo: Nick Turchiaro, USA TODAY Sports)

“I told Steve coming into this whatever he needed from me, I was OK with,” Cousins said. “If it’s coming off the bench, if it’s starting, if it’s playing eight minutes or 40, I’m cool with whatever. I just want to come in and help the team with whatever’s needed.”

Boogie Cousins’ funny reaction to learning he was getting the start in Game 2.

Returning from a ruptured Achilles is grueling, and there are several players who have never been the same after that injury. Cousins fought to overcome that and played some decent basketball for the Warriors during the regular season, giving the Warriors a lift when they hit the midseason doldrums. Then, another injury at the start of the playoffs.

“Fairness doesn't really play a part in this sport,” Cousins said. “Fairness doesn't really play a part in life, honestly. But these are the cards I was dealt, and all I can do is deal with it however it comes. So I'll make the best of the situation, which I've tried to do."

His attitude has been phenomenal, something that wasn’t always obvious when he developed a reputation as a mercurial player who ran afoul of Kings coaches and referees with Sacramento. But after eight seasons, Cousins decided to play for Golden State and a chance at a title.

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How would Cousins fit in with the Warriors, who had already won three championships without him? They got a talented player but would it come at a cost?

It never did. No complaints about Cousins.

“You just see the joy in his face,” said Golden State backup guard Shaun Livingston, who overcame a gruesome leg injury early his career. “Of course, he’s a competitor. He’s into the game. He’s staying into the game. You don’t see him (expletive). You don’t see him getting upset at the referees. He’s happy to be out there, and he’s with us.”

And never did the Warriors need him as much this season as they did Sunday with the difference between a 2-0 series and 1-1 series being much more than one game.

"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. … 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."

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