TORONTO -- From odd man out to potential savior in the blink of an eye.
After starting the previous three games of the NBA Finals, DeMarcus Cousins began Game 5 against the Toronto Raptors on Monday planted on the Warriors’ bench. It was a tough pill to swallow for a player who has waited his entire career for a moment like this.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr played small ball, using Draymond Green as his starting center with superstar Kevin Durant back in the fold. When Kerr needed a sub in the post, he turned to Kevon Looney first. And then Andrew Bogut.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Fresh off a month-long absence, Durant went down holding his right lower leg in the early second quarter. It was a stunning turn of events that caught all of Scotiabank Arena off guard.
Andre Iguodala helped Durant off the court. Stephen Curry followed his friend to the locker room to share a word of encouragement.
With the game on hold, Kerr assessed his situation and called on Cousins to fill the void. The 6-foot-11 center took the promotion in stride and instantly went to work.
“I thought DeMarcus was fantastic tonight,” Kerr said after the Warriors' 106-105 win. “He stayed ready. He didn't get the first call for that second-quarter run. We went to Bogut, and then with the injury, we knew we needed his scoring, and he stayed ready and played a brilliant game.”
Cousins plowed through a pair of Raptors for his first bucket. He did it again moments later, and then he buried a 3-pointer for seven points in his first minute of action.
The six-time All-Star finished the half with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, and he also grabbed five rebounds in just 6:18 of action. There was a power to his game that has been missing as he continues to recover from a torn quadriceps.
“So very happy for him, and he's been through an awful lot himself over the last year-plus with his own injuries,” Kerr added. “This was a great night for him individually, and very happy for him.”
Cousins had moments in the second half as well. Some were good, and some were not.
He finished the evening with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and chipped in six rebounds, one block and one steal in 20 minutes of play. In the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, he was called for goaltending on both ends of the floor and questionably whistled for a moving screen.
When Cousins is healthy, you can take the good with the bad. Even though he isn't 100 percent, his presence in the lineup helped steady the Warriors in a crucial moment Monday.
In a career filled with chaos, it was a manic week for Cousins. During The Finals, he has gone from medical miracle in Game 1 to starring in Game 2, and he followed that with extremely difficult stretches in Games 3 and 4.
Now, he’s come full circle. Without his play in Game 5, the Warriors likely would be on a plane home watching the entire country of Canada celebrate the Raptors' first NBA championship.
“Cuz was unbelievable tonight, for real, he’s one of our most valuable players,” Warriors veteran Shaun Livingston said. “What he did, coming in changing the pace of the game, giving us that punch, like, we’re dangerous when we play that way.”
The struggle to find a rhythm after missing six weeks has taken its toll on Cousins. He was in no mood to talk following the game, despite the win. His words to the media were cryptic, as they have been throughout much of his career.
“Just a lot of things that transpired over the past couple of days, and I just used it as motivation,” Cousins said following the win. “So, I’ll leave it at that.”
It was an emotional evening for the Warriors. On the brink of elimination, they needed all hands on deck. Cousins showed that he is getting closer to the player he has been in the past, but he’s at the mercy of his body at this point.
There is hope that Cousins will continue to get stronger. A two-day break between games is just what the doctor ordered.
There are no promises that he all start Game 6 on Thursday, or that he can give the same level of play. But Golden State will need the big man if it’s going to even the best-of-seven series in Oracle Arena's finale and force a winner-take-all Game 7.