DeMarcus Cousins said no one knows the hard work he had to put in to get to this point.
Saturday night, Cousins had his best performance on an NBA floor in nearly three years. He led the Houston Rockets to a 133-108 victory over the Dallas Mavericks with 28 points (9-15 FG, 4-8 3PT) and 17 rebounds. It was his best game since April of 2019 when Cousins notched 21 points and 12 rebounds in a win for the Golden State Warriors.
Cousins’ night inside the American Airlines Center was a complete 180 from the 2-for-16 shooting performance he displayed 24 hours earlier in a win against the Pistons. But while fans and media viewed his night as a bounce-back performance, Cousins’ play against the Mavericks was a testimony that he still possesses the elite talents that have been on hiatus since January 26, 2018 — the night he tore his Achilles.
“It has been a journey for sure. I’m grateful and ecstatic to be able to put together a game like this the way I did. There is still a long season ahead, and my goal is to make this a consistent thing. This is definitely a confidence booster for me. And hopefully, I can continue moving forward.” — Cousins
In his heyday, a game with at least 25 points and 12 rebounds was another day at the office for Cousins. It was the reason why the general public hailed him as the league’s best big man. He averaged 26.0 points and 12.0 rebounds as a member of the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans and made four consecutive All-Star appearances from 2015-2018.
But a plethora of injuries changed the trajectory of Cousins’ career. And his 25 points and 12 rebounds performance became far and in between.
A mended Achilles became the least of Cousins’ concerns as each injury became more career-altering than the last. In April of 2019, Cousins sustained a torn quadriceps that ruled him out for a bulk of the Warriors’ postseason run. Later that summer, he suffered a torn ACL during an offseason pickup game after signing with the Lakers. Cousins missed all of the 2019-20 season.
“It’s just proof that all the work I’ve put in is working. These things are not for granted. There were days I did not want to get up. There were days I thought I was wasting my time. I had dog days of thinking it was over for me. I’ve be lying if I said I did not have those moments. But I had to continue believing in myself.” — Cousins
By the time he signed with the Rockets, limited contribution as a reserve was the new norm for Cousins. He currently plays behind rising star Christian Wood at center. And at times, he would fall victim to Stephen Silas’ small-ball that would keep him on the sideline in favor of Jae’Sean Tate and David Nwaba. Mentoring the younger guys ahead of him on the depth charts has been Cousins’ most significant role through the first 13 games.
To go from an All-NBA performer to a reserve veteran averaging 6.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in 14.2 minutes would be a hard adjustment for anyone — and Cousins isn’t any different.
That changed Wednesday night when Wood sustained a sprained ankle in a loss against the Phoenix Suns. The injury forced Wood to miss the next two games where Cousins started in his place. Since injuries began to take a toll on his career, Wood’s absence gave Cousins his first real opportunity to showcase that he can still play at an elite level.
“I’m the one that is on him 24/7 on both the good and bad days. I told him it’s a process. It’s difficult to go from that franchise player and always being the guy that was dominant. And now he has to accept the role of coming off the bench. I told him to stay patient and ready. You never know when your time will be called.” — John Wall
If there is anyone who can relate to Cousins’ struggles, it’s John Wall. An Achilles tear and heel injury changed the course of Wall’s career, which put his play on hiatus for two years. And now reunited as teammates, Cousins can embark on his journey towards redemption alongside his best friend.
Only time will tell whether the Rockets will see this type of performance again from Cousins. But each time he steps onto the court, it’s another milestone of how far the former All-Star has come. Beyond the points and the rebounds he recorded against the Mavericks, there was another stepping stone that brought Cousins joy. Saturday marked Cousins’ first back-to-back night since January of 2018.
“I was excited to log in those minutes. Just having a big jump and having a somewhat decent game — I was excited. It has been a back-to-back night of stepping stones for me. Hopefully, this means that I am on the right path and progress from here. I just have to stay the course and never stop working. That’s all I can do.” — Cousins