DeMarcus Cousins readily admits that he didn't know whether he'd ever have another dominant performance.
In fact, Cousins acknowledged after his 28-point, 17-rebound, 5-assist outing in the Houston Rockets' 133-108 win Saturday night over the Dallas Mavericks that there were times that doubts crept into his mind whether he'd ever even get back on an NBA court, period.
That's how cathartic this game was for Cousins, a four-time All-Star playing for the veterans minimum this season, after he endured a ruptured Achilles tendon, a torn quadriceps and a torn ACL while bouncing around to four franchises over the past four years.
"It's just proof that the work is working," Cousins said. "The work, the time, the effort, those days I didn't want to get up and do it, the days I thought I was wasting, my time, the dog days I thought it was over for me -- all of those thoughts at some point flashed in my mind. I would be lying if I didn't have those moments, but just continue to believe in myself."
Cousins, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury suffered after he signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, had struggled to find a rhythm at the start of his stint with the Rockets. He was sidelined the first week of the season due to contact tracing as part of the league's health and safety protocols, and Cousins shot only 26.3% from the floor in his first 11 games, including a 2-of-16 outing in Friday's win over the Chicago Bulls.
But Cousins busted out of his shooting slump by going 9-of-15 against the Mavs, using his 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame to bully his way to the basket in vintage "Boogie" form on several occasions and making four of eight 3-point attempts.
"It's a confidence boost, for sure," Cousins said. "It lets you know that it's able to be done. It lets you know that the work you're putting in is starting to come around. Stay the course. It's a long season. It's definitely going to be a process for me. I'm sure there's going to be more bad days ahead. Just stay the course, stay level-headed and never stop working. That's really all I can do."
It was Cousins' highest-scoring game since a 44-point, 23-rebound, 10-assist triple-double for the New Orleans Pelicans in a Jan. 22, 2018, win, when he was a superstar expected to command a maximum contract as a free agent that summer.
Four days later, he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final seconds of a win over the Rockets.
Cousins played a total of only 38 games, including the playoffs, over the next two seasons, signing one-year deals with the Golden State Warriors and Lakers. He arrived in Houston with hopes of resuscitating his career and has embraced a backup role, emerging as a leader and serving as a mentor to blossoming star center Christian Wood and other young Rockets during a turbulent start to the season as franchise cornerstone James Harden forced a trade.
But this performance, coming with Wood sidelined by a sprained ankle, represented the first time that Cousins played a starring role in a Rockets win.
"I told him it's a process," said Rockets point guard John Wall, Cousins' college teammate and close friend who had eight assists in his return after a five-game absence due to a sore knee. "I mean, I know it's difficult from being that franchise guy and always being the guy that was dominant and having the game the way you want it to be, and now he has to accept the role of coming off the bench. That's a little bit difficult for a lot of people that's always been that guy and then probably wanting to play more minutes but not getting as many minutes.
"You never know when your time is going to be called. Stay patient and be ready. I feel like he got the same type of looks he got last night in Detroit. He just didn't make them. I don't know what he did on the flight or all day today to come back and be able to play on a back-to-back and play the game that he did. It was big for us."