LOS ANGELES — Less than a minute into his first game as a member of the LA Clippers, DeMarcus Cousins maneuvered his way around Enes Kanter, tapped an offensive rebound to himself and scored on a putback right in front of a delighted Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.
Making his debut for the team after signing a 10-day contract on Monday, Cousins’ seven points, four rebounds and two assists in seven minutes during the Clippers’ 133-116 blowout win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at Staples Center.
“He was great,” said Paul George, who hit six 3-pointers and finished with 36 points. “He’s an All-Star. He’s still one of the most skilled bigs in the league. He can finish, he rebounds. I thought you saw a little bit of everything from him tonight, and he showed he’s still got a lot left to give.”
The Clippers are the latest stop for Cousins since serious injuries threatened his All-Star career. Cousins tore his Achilles in 2018 with the New Orleans Pelicans and had a long rehab before returning. He then suffered a quadriceps tear during the first round of the playoffs with the Golden State Warriors in 2019. He returned and played in the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors and then joined the Los Angeles Lakers, only to tear his ACL before the 2019-20 season began.
After missing all of last season, Cousins returned and played in 25 games with the Houston Rockets this season before he was released. It has been a grueling and long road back.
“I’ve put an incredible amount of work to get to this place,” Cousins said. “I feel great, my body feels great. I’m in probably the best shape I’ve been in my entire career. At this point, it’s about going out there and just putting everything together and just trying to continue to show that I’m healthy and I’m here to play this game at a high level.
“I understand the situation that I’m in. Whatever opportunity is given to me, I plan on just taking full advantage of it, just controlling what I can control.”
Cousins provides the Clippers with some much-needed depth at center with Serge Ibaka (back) missing his 12th consecutive game. Cousins set screens, pulled down two offensive rebounds and drew fouls to go to the line four times in his first game since Feb. 17.
“Cousins was good,” Clippers head coach Ty Lue said. “[It’s] just tough because he doesn’t know as many plays right now, so we’re limited offensively. But he’s a problem [for opponents]. He is a big load, he can post up, he can shoot the 3, he can pass the basketball. … Just getting him into shape and getting him acclimated to what we are trying to do offensively and defensively, but we already know he’s a big talent.”
Cousins also has some familiarity with this Clippers team. He’s former teammates with recently acquired Rajon Rondo, and he played with George on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team and with Patrick Patterson in college at Kentucky.
Cousins said he doesn’t see many weaknesses on the Clippers, who have won two straight with routs over the Lakers and Blazers.
“Obviously they have a two-headed snake in Kawhi [Leonard] and PG,” Cousins said. “And obviously everybody else’s job is to make their job easy. I think this is probably one of the most complete teams in the league. I just bring whatever I can to help this team and elevate it. I don’t really see this team lacking much.”
George said he is looking forward to seeing Cousins regain his All-Star form with the Clippers.
“He can really play at a high level still,” George said. “So I’m looking forward to him getting into a groove, him seeing the floor and just being a great teammate for us.”