It can often be hard to root for DeMarcus Cousins. For every time he dominates a game, the Sacramento Kings star evinces a level of immaturity that would not be tolerated in a less talented player. He often gets the balance between on-court excellence and petulance wrong, to the point where enjoying him requires tolerating a fair number of sins. It’s usually easier not to attempt to justify the love and just admit you admire him for his missteps.
We true believers put up with Cousins’s worst moments because his best ones measure up against anyone in the league. Sometimes, though, they all run together to produce a basketball experience unlike any other. And Tuesday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers was one of those nights.
Playing his first game since avoiding suspension and incurring “a substantial fine” for chewing out a Sacramento Bee columnist, Cousins utterly dominated the opposition in one of the best performances of his career. His 55 points (17-of-28 FG, 5-of-8 3FG, 16-of-17 FT) represented the second-highest total in the league so far this season and made him the first player in Kings history to score at least 55 twice in his time with the club.
Cousins displayed the vast majority of what he can do to dominate at the offensive end (only the assists were missing). He drew bigger defenders into uncomfortable positions on the perimeter, muscled them inside, and took them off the dribble. The Blazers came into the night with the NBA’s worst defense, but Cousins would have put up big numbers against any team. He had everything working and was the key figure in the Kings’ comeback from a 95-83 deficit with 3:40 remaining in the third quarter.
He also nearly lost his team the game in the final minute of regulation. Cousins broke a 119-119 tie with 35 seconds left with his final field goal, a tough and-one lay-up against Mason Plumlee. Cousins celebrated the play by moving toward the Blazers bench and apparently taunting them by spitting out his mouthguard, earning his second technical of the night and an automatic ejection. He left the court in disbelief, although the decision looked understandable given the league’s definition of taunting. As our Dan Devine put it at the time, it was all extremely fitting:
Getting ejected for picking up a second technical after scoring your 54th point in a one-possession game with 35 seconds left is PEAK BOOGIE
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) December 21, 2016
Then, in what those of us at BDL considered to be an NBA-first, Cousins was un-ejected. Referees convened and decided that the mouthguard had fallen out by accident — never mind that it came out because he was jawing at the opposing bench — which turned the apparent taunt into an official mistake. Cousins was brought back to the court (without his trademark headband) and allowed to shoot his and-one free throw as if nothing had ever happened.
Take a look at the whole weird scene here:
The Kings public address announcer’s face filled in for most of the reactions on Twitter:
Referee Brian Forte did his best to explain the un-ejection after the game:
Here's referee Brian Forte's explanation of the final tech/non-tech on DeMarcus Cousins pic.twitter.com/TxjBXoxR7a
— Mike Richman (@mikegrich) December 21, 2016
Cousins made that free throw to make it a 122-119 game, but he wasn’t done with the game-changing plays just yet. He blocked a Damian Lillard layup on the next possession to foil a quality attempt to cut the lead, finishing up a line that included 12 rebounds and three swats. Teammates then made four free throws in the final seconds to complete the scoring and the Kings’ 126-121 win.
But, again, Cousins wasn’t done. He spoke to CSN California sideline reporter Kayte Christensen after the final buzzer and did not hold back during a WWE-style promo on the referees, the Blazers’ physical approach to defending him, and Plumlee’s abilities (or maybe continuing a long-running feud with backup Meyers Leonard instead). You don’t want to miss this one:
Your ears are not deceiving you — the sound really did cut out. According to Christensen, though, it was not intentional:
The mic was NOT cut. Trust me, on TV you don't cut away from something like that. Issue was battery pack connection being jostled loose https://t.co/f3bf7u5mrs
— Kayte Christensen (@kayte_c) December 21, 2016
Boogie’s interview from the locker room was a little calmer, although his sarcastic smiles and explanation of what he was doing right before he was called back onto the court are worth a watch:
DeMarcus to reporters in the locker room after the game: "HEY FRIENDS!" pic.twitter.com/PXJzvdayfC
— Hoop Ball (@HoopBallTweets) December 21, 2016
For what it’s worth, lots of other things happened in this game. Plumlee put up a career-high 27 points to go with 13 rebounds; Lillard dished out 15 assists with no turnovers; C.J. McCollum had 37 points himself; the struggling Blazers lost another game in a disappointing defensive performance. These are all points worthy of extended analysis.
However, a big night from Cousins tends to eclipse everything else. There’s no one else like him, and this game was arguably the best encapsulation yet of all that makes him so special.
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