DeMarcus Cousins’ NBA Finals resurgence changes everything about free agency

OAKLAND, Calif. — Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins has emerged just in time for his stock to skyrocket before NBA free agency begins June 30.

Cousins’ signing to a heavily discounted one-year, $5 million pact last summer was done with Sunday — in a hostile Finals environment — in mind.

This hasn’t been a storybook season for the 28-year-old Cousins, but it’s not over. In his second game back from a quad tear and in the second playoff game of his life, he lifted the depleted Warriors when they needed him most in Sunday’s 109-104 win over the Raptors.

Cousins racked up 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 28 minutes. The burly, 6-foot-11 big was on the floor for the 18-0 game-deciding spree that opened the second half. The Warriors were a plus-16 when he was on the floor in the second half.

“I want to be on this stage,’’ Cousins said after the series-tying victory Sunday that sent the Finals back to the Bay Area at 1-1. “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 [from the quad], 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.”

Early in Round 1, Cousins, already fresh off a long recovery from an Achilles tear, seriously hurt his leg again chasing a loose ball. Nobody knew if Cousins, who didn’t make his Golden State debut until January, would get back in time to help the Warriors.

In a huge spot, Warriors coach Steve Kerr elected to start Cousins on Sunday after his inconsequential eight-minute, no-field goal outing off the bench in Game 1 when he was on the court for the first time in 6 ½ weeks.

“We came in thinking he can maybe play 20 minutes [in Game 2],” Kerr said. “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.”

Some team may pay Cousins, a four-time All-Star, a lot of money during free agency and it probably won’t be the Warriors. If the Knicks strike out with bigger fish, who knows?

Cousins, whose volatile personality isn’t a selling point, can at least make an impact in the next week and turn himself into the quintessential one-and-done rental.

Wednesday’s Game 3 at Oracle Arena could loom even larger for Cousins if neither Klay Thompson (hamstring) nor Kevin Durant (calf) play and with backup center Kevon Looney out with a broken collarbone.

“We do feel confidence we can continue to get good minutes from him,’’ Kerr said. “We’re going to need them obviously with all the injuries.”

The Warriors have gotten used to playing without Durant, but with Thompson missing in the final seven minutes Sunday and Looney the entire second half, it was gut-check time — and Cousins was part of the crew that held off the hard-charging Raptors.

“DeMarcus hasn’t played much basketball over the course of the last 18 months,’’ Draymond Green said. “So the more he plays, the better feel he gets. [Sunday night] he was huge for us. Putting him in the starting lineup I think it was big.”

Cousins’ presence also neutralized Raptors center Marc Gasol, who had a strong Game 1. Gasol had six points on 2-for-7 shooting in 31 minutes in Game 2 after going for 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting in 30 minutes in the opener.

“Obviously you get more comfortable with more minutes and playing aggressive,’’ Stephen Curry said. “[Cousins] puts a lot of pressure on their defense. It’s a big lift for us. More to come.”

If Cousins, the Warriors’ fifth All-Star component, helps them get their fourth ring, his payday may soon follow.

“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.’’

Source: Read Full Article