2019 NBA Finals: Warriors' DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook among four unlikely heroes in life-saving Game 2 victory
Also, a couple of wily Golden State veterans combined to close the door
The Golden State Warriors are a MASH unit right now. Kevin Durant is out. Klay Thompson left late in Game 2 and didn't return with a hamstring injury. Kevon Looney went out with a chest contusion. Stephen Curry said he "didn't feel right" all night. Toronto was in control the whole first half and looked primed to deliver a knockout blow, perhaps for the entire series. Yet, somehow, , on the road, to even the Finals at 1-1 heading back to Oakland for Game 3 on Wednesday.
With Durant out, Golden State's remaining big guns, banged up as they are, did what they had to do. Curry fought uphill all night, but he strung together a mini Curry Flurry in the second quarter to make it a game again and finished with 23 points while facing some of the most lopsided defense you'll ever see in an NBA game -- a true Box and 1 coverage, with one guy dedicated solely to Curry and four other defenders covering quadrants. That is high school defense where there is only one player who can hurt you. That Toronto would pull it out in an NBA Finals game tells you everything you need to know about the white-knuckle fear Curry puts into defenses.
Beyond Curry, Thompson got the Warriors going with a scorching first quarter and finished with 25 points. Draymond Green pitched in 17 and was one assist shy of a triple-double. Add it up, and that's 65 combined points from the three active All-Stars. But a win as improbable as this one -- and it was, in so many ways, IMPROBABLE -- doesn't happen without some equally improbable individual performances. Here are four unlikely Golden State heroes who not only saved the day in Game 2 but might very well have saved the entire series.
When Cousins signed with the Warriors in the first place, he was supposed to be complete gravy on a team already loaded with four future Hall of Famers. When he tore his quad in the first round, he was supposed to be done for the year. When he made it back for Game 1 of the Finals, he was pretty inconsequential and offered little indication, if any at all, that he was in any way ready to play a major role going forward.
So what did Steve Kerr do? He started Cousins in Game 2. And, man, did Cousins come through. With 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, Cousins, considering the stage and stakes, gave the Warriors the most important 28 minutes of his basketball life. There is no way the Warriors win this game without him. After banking four free throws in Game 1, Cousins' first Finals bucket was a three from the top of the key.
This was important because you can see Marc Gasol sagged way off in the lane. Cousins gives the Warriors the floor-stretching element the other Golden State bigs lack, and as the Raptors came out to pressure him more, he turned into a big-time playmaker. Cousins has always been a fabulous passer, and he dropped some dimes in Game 2. Here are a couple to a cutting Thompson:
Cousins wasn't just making plays in the half-court, either. Looking like Draymond Green, he pushed the pace as the ball handler on several semi-breaks and got the Warriors clean looks in early offense as the distributor. Then, when Toronto's defense overextended on the perimeter, Boogie, in a more conventional position near the rim, was athletic enough to make plays on the back side:
That's not a move you'd expect from a rusty seven-footer coming off a torn quad with almost no built-up rhythm in his tank. That's vintage Cousins. Like he was never injured. Like he never missed a beat. Even defensively, where he is supposed to be a liability even when he's fully healthy, he was in the right spot all night and slid his feet effectively enough to provide the help the Warriors needed on the perimeter. Look here as he cuts off Kawhi Leonard's driving angle, forces the long, contested 2-pointer, grabs the rebound and leads one of the aforementioned mini-breaks, ultimately finding Andre Iguodala for a wide-open three.
Just a fantastic game for Cousins, who was emotional after the game with all he's been through. This has been one of the best individual players in the world for a long time, and he's never gotten to play on this stage. He's waited and worked for this shot. But getting your shot and taking advantage of it are two different things, and Cousins seized his moment. He may have been gravy on this team before. But not anymore. The Warriors needed every single thing he gave them just to escape by their fingernails, and they'll continue to need Cousins to play big moving forward with Thompson and Durant's Game 3 status still very much so up in the air.
There have been long stretches of these Finals where the Warriors, who suddenly have the depth of a kiddie pool, have had to play Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie together. Neither one of those guys were drafted. Throw in Jonas Jerebko, who basically couldn't find another team to take him last summer, and Shaun Livingston, who isn't nearly the player he was a few years ago, and, well, this isn't exactly an NBA Finals lineup.
But Cook made it all OK on Sunday.
Cook has gone from that undrafted player to a two-way roster guy to a relatively dependable backup to, indeed, a legitimate Finals hero after what he did in Game 2. The final line doesn't look like anything special: Nine points, one rebound. But those nine points came on 3-of-5 shooting from three, including back-to-back triples that took the Warriors' tenuous fourth-quarter lead from four to 10 just as the Raptors were starting to regain momentum.
When the great CBS broadcaster Bill Raftery talks about guys having "onions," he's talking about shots like those. For a guy of Cook's background and limited role to step into those kinds of shots, in those situations, with that kind of confidence, is amazing. Stephen Curry, a man with more confidence inside him than a young Brad Pitt walking into a bar, said after the game that Cook might have more confidence than anyone on the Warriors. If these shots were any indication, Curry ain't lying. Cook was huge in Game 2.
Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston
Livingston's final Game 2 line won't turn your head for a second: Six points, three assists in 16 minutes. Iguodala -- as has become standard for this time of year for a guy turning into a Hall of Famer before our eyes -- was much more impactful with eight points, eight rebounds and six assists. But in the end, they each made one play when it absolutely had to be made, and that's why they're champions.
After Danny Green hit a three to bring the Raptors within two with 26 seconds to play, the Warriors found themselves on the cusp of a potentially catastrophic turnover as Toronto trapped Curry and forced him into a terrible pass that looked like a sure interception for Kawhi Leonard. Instead, Livingston, to the delight of every coach in the world, came to the pass rather than waiting for it to come to him, and in doing so beat Leonard to the ball, saved the turnover, then found Iguodala for the game-sealing three.
That is such winning basketball. Things seldom go perfectly in the waning moments of such high-pressure games. These are human beings and things get rushed and sloppy, and sometimes someone just has to step up on instinct and make a CPR play. That catch that Livingston came up with won't show up in a single box score. But people who know basketball know that was perhaps the play of the game.
If the Raptors make that steal they are going the other way with numbers and plenty of time on the clock. There is an alternative ending to this game that looks horrible for the Warriors, and Curry in particular, who could've been saddled with one of the all-time awful turnovers in Finals history, right behind his brain-fart behind-the-back pass in the closing minutes of Game 7 vs. the Cavs in 2016.
But this one never came to pass, so to speak. Livingston saved the day, found Iggy, and while that 3-pointer might not have been the most advisable shot in that situation (he could've run the clock down inside three seconds before forcing Toronto to foul), it went in. If he had missed, Toronto could've gotten the rebound with four or five seconds on the clock, called timeout, and had possession at half-court with a chance to tie or win the game. But Iggy didn't miss. Ends of games aren't always about perfect execution and/or decision making. They're about results. Livingston made the play and the pass. Iggy made the shot. And the Warriors are now back in the driver's seat to make history.
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