Way back in November of 2013, when DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins was still a Sacramento King and Chris Paul still an L.A. Clipper, Cousins physically pulled teammate Isaiah Thomas away from a post-game handshake with Paul following a closely contested but relatively meaningless Clippers win.
At the time, Cousins was in his fourth season out of Kentucky and still one year away from receiving his first of four All-Star nods. Paul, meanwhile, was already part of NBA royalty, on the cusp of his seventh straight All-Star selection in nine seasons and the undisputed leader of a Clippers squad that would eventually lose to Oklahoma City in the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s young, man,” Paul said of Cousins following the game. “He don’t know no better. He needs some guidance. It is what it is.” Essentially, Paul told Cousins to grow the f—- up.
Follow the Heavy on Clippers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content out of Clipper Nation!
Nearly eight years later, as both players find themselves on opposite ends of the floor in the Western Conference finals, it’s clear that Cousins has indeed grown up, no longer the petulant superstar that he became in Sacramento. But while Paul, now with Phoenix, has defied the odds and remained an elite player in this his 16th season, Cousins is no longer a superstar, relegated to a bench role for the Clippers following three major injuries beginning in 2017.
Cousins may not see the minutes he once did, but he can still shake it with the best of them when the opportunity arises — something he made crystal clear in L.A.’s season-saving Game 5 victory over the Suns on Monday.
Cousins Did a Lot in Limited Minutes
Down 3-1 and facing elimination on the road, the Clippers, who have been without the services of All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard since Game 4 of the Utah series, knew they needed big performances from their top frontline players — Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris. And they delivered, combining for 76 points on 74% shooting.
What the Clippers didn’t expect, however, was a return to form for Cousins, who was pressed into action following a Game 4 injury to starting center Ivica Zubac. In just over 11 minutes, Cousins scored 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting and added three assists. After only seeing four total minutes over the last three games, Cousins’ performance was surprising to just about everyone — everyone, that is, except Cousins himself.
“When I step on the floor, I feel like I’m the best one on the floor regardless of who is in front of me,” Cousins said after the game. “And I know for a fact can’t nobody guard me one-on-one.”
That was certainly true for Phoenix center Dario Saric, against whom Cousins did most of his damage, eventually forcing the Suns to send a double team which opened things up for other Clippers. Boogie’s effectiveness also allowed coach Lue to give extended rest to some of his starters.
“He’s a great passer when he catches it down low. He’s tough to handle down there,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue after the game. “Him having 15 points off the bench was a huge spark for us [allowing] PG and Reggie to get some rest and Marcus to get some rest. Kind of play through Cousins and he was great.”
“It’s great to have Cuz in there,” George agreed. “He slows the game up for us, which is a good thing, because, he’s still a dominant big and demands a double team. So I think it’s a great breakup for us when we’re playing the spread and fast pace to have Cuz slow the game down in moments where we can dump it down there and get production.”
While most of that production came in the post (Cousins missed both of his 3-point attempts), his most eye-opening bucket came against Paul. At the start of the second quarter, with the Clippers up 10, Cousins stripped the point guard near the foul line and, despite Paul’s feverish attempts to right his wrong, took it all the way down the court for a lay-in.
Paul returned the favor on the next possession, nailing a jump shot from the elbow. But Cousins was not to be outdone, scoring the Clippers’ next four points and returning L.A.’s lead to 12.
It’s Been a Long, Strange Trip
Aside from his play in Game 5, the mere fact that Cousins is even on the Clippers’ playoff roster in the first place is somewhat surprising. Especially since Cousins often questions his desire to continue playing.
“That goes through my mind probably once every other day,” Cousins told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. “This s— is hard, bro. It’s hard knowing what you can do. It’s hard believing in yourself when nobody else believes in you. And I’m sure a lot of people know what that feeling feels like.”
Traded by Sacramento to New Orleans in 2017, mostly because Kings GM Vlade Divac did not like the big man’s poor attitude, Cousins’ time with the Pelicans, alongside Anthony Davis, was highly productive — averaging 25 points, 12.7 rebounds and five assists — but ultimately short-lived.
A ruptured Achilles tendon in 2018 eventually led to him signing with the Golden State Warriors for the 2018-19 season, but that ended poorly, too, after Cousins tore his left quad in the Warriors opening playoff series. He would return in the Finals (which Golden State lost to Cleveland), but in the offseason the Warriors declined to re-sign Cousins, who then joined the Los Angeles Lakers before the 2019-20 season. Cousins, however, would never play in game as a Laker, tearing his left ACL in an offseason workout and missing the entire season.
After rehabbing, Cousins signed with the Houston Rockets before the start of this season, but was cut after only 25 games as the Rockets entered a rebuild mode following the departure of disgruntled superstar James Harden. When the Clippers signed Cousins to a 10-day contract, in April, to add roster depth given Serge Ibaka’s back troubles, it was unknown what role Cousins would play.
“We knew Zu was the starter. We didn’t know what Serge’s situation was going to be,” Lue recounted after Monday’s game. “We just told him like right now we don’t know what the situation is going to be, but just be ready to play if your name is called. He worked every day, five-on-five with the young guys, played, kept himself ready and when Serge was out or he was down, Cuz stepped in and played great for us.”
The Clippers, of course, eventually signed Cousins for the remainder of the season, and though he’s played only sparingly in the playoffs, Lue appreciates Cousins’ “toughness” and is well aware of what Cousins can add when he’s on his game.
“He’s a great player. He went through some injuries, which is unfortunate. But guys forget, he was a max player before he went through all those injuries,” said Lue.
And while it’s unlikely he’ll ever replicate his All-Star days in Sacramento and New Orleans, Cousins is ready to contribute however he can.
“I’m grateful for the moment I’m in. When my name is called, I’ll just take advantage of that moment. That’s all I can do,” said Cousins.