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DeMarcus Cousins' return to starting lineup fuels banged-up Warriors in Game 2

Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins reacts against the Raptors

Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins reacts against the Raptors in the second half during Game 2 of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Getty Images/Gregory Shamus

TORONTO — As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena, Kevin Durant emerged from the locker room. He walked slowly through the corridor to the end of the tunnel, followed by a hobbling Klay Thompson, where they greeted their teammates dancing off the court.

All season long the Warriors have used the motto, 'Strength in Numbers," as a slogan and on some nights it just seemed like a cruel boast as the roster was assembled with All-Stars as bit parts willing to join in to try to snag a championship ring. But Sunday night it seemed like a cry for help. Already without Durant, who is working his way back from a strained calf muscle, his status for the remainder of the series still a mystery, the Warriors saw Kevon Looney sidelined with a left chest contusion and then lost Thompson to a pulled left hamstring.

Those were the hits that put key players out of action and don’t include Stephen Curry, who had to return to the locker room in the first quarter, struggling with dehydration, or Andre Iguodala, who already was hobbled with a calf injury and took a blow to the back of the head on a blind screen in the first half and retreated to the locker room before returning to deliver the biggest shot of the game, a decisive three-pointer with seven seconds remaining.

DeMarcus Cousins was this season's arrival, signing on despite recovering from a torn Achilles which would sideline him for the first 45 games of the regular season. And then just two games into the playoffs, he suffered a quad strain that put him out of action until Thursday’s Game 1 and even then he was limited to just eight minutes.

But Cousins stepped back into the starting lineup Sunday and responded with 11 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots. After the game he posted an Instagram story with both he and Iguodala being pushed through the airport in wheelchairs with the message, “Andre, you good?”

“It feels great,” Cousins said after the game was over. “I've leaned on my teammates throughout this moment and throughout this whole process and this was an incredible moment for me. But I'm not satisfied and I'm looking forward to Game 3.”

Curry, sitting next to Cousins on the postgame interview stage, said, “It’s a big lift for us. I know he's been waiting a long time to be on this stage. Obviously, with his injuries, he's taken the challenge of inserting himself and making that transition smooth. So it's been fun to watch. More to come.”

Before the injuries, Cousins arguably was the best center in the game and now he shows flashes of that, threading passes to cutters to help key the 18-0 run that began the second half and helped turn the game and even the series.

“We came in thinking, all right, he can maybe play 20 minutes and he gave us almost 28,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “There was only one time in the game when he needed a rest, which was mid-fourth and we gave him a couple minutes and then got him back in the game. But he was fantastic and we needed everything he gave out there, his rebounding, his toughness, his physical presence, getting the ball in the paint, and just playing big, like he does. We needed all of that.”

And they could need it as the series shifts to Oakland for Game 3 Wednesday. With a travel day Monday, there will be one practice before the game. Durant has not been cleared to practice yet, but the Warriors remain hopeful that he can return at some point in the series. Thompson did not speak to the media after Sunday’s game, and Kerr said he was told he’d be ready for Game 3.

“Klay said he'll be fine, but Klay could be half dead and he would say he would be fine,” Kerr said. “We'll see. He pulled his hamstring. He thinks it is minor, so I don't know what that means going forward.”

New York Sports