TORONTO – DeMarcus Cousins spent six-and-a-half seasons trying to lead the Kings into the playoffs, a challenge said was eating him alive. He got traded to the Pelicans and helped them reach last year’s playoffs, but he’d already suffered a season-ending injury by then. He finally appeared in the postseason this year with the Warriors, but he got hurt in just his second playoff game.
Now, he’s playing in the NBA Finals.
“It’s kind of like some kid who grew up in the suburbs going to private school, and then one day you just got dropped in the hood and was told to survive,” Draymond Green said. “You got to figure that out.”
Since the NBA adopted a 16-team postseason in 1984, Cousins’ two prior career playoff games are the fifth-fewest before his NBA Finals debut. Here are the players with the fewest:
Most of that list – Jordan McRae, Fennis Dembo, Nando De Colo, Terrel Harris, Micheal Williams, Milt Wagner – is comprised of rookies playing in garbage time. Jason Kapono was a third-year player who played in garbage time. Shannon Brown was rookie who came in late to foul.
Only David Rivers – a rookie point guard pressed into duty with injuries to Magic Johnson and Byron Scott – and Cousins held significant roles.
Cousins played eight minutes off the bench in Game 1. He missed both his shots, drew a couple fouls, made a couple nice passes, was a step slow defensively, but still disrupted the Raptors’ offense when in position.
His Finals inexperience might even help the Warriors, who’ve won two straight titles and three in four years. That makes it more difficult for returning players to summon the hunger necessary to compete with Toronto. But Cousins, who just quickly rehabbed through a quad injury Steve Kerr thought would be season-ending, provides a motivating spark.
“It’s a special moment for him, a special moment for us seeing him out there,” Green said. “It will be even more special if we can win this series, and he can get a ring, and we all get a ring.”