While the rest of the world was watching football, DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings made one of the biggest statements of this young NBA season. Cousins dropped a 34-point, 17-rebound, five-assist line and Darren Collison hit a clutch jumper to lead the Kings to a 98-92 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
For a while, this looked like the tough-luck loss a team like Sacramento always gets on the road against an elite team. Led by a scoring explosion from Chris Paul, the Clippers took a double-digit third-quarter lead. But Sacramento chipped away with a reserve unit, then roared back into the game after three straight Cousins buckets, including this over-the-head layup on a pick and roll.
A three-point play by Carl Landry three minutes later gave Sacramento a lead it never relinquished. The Clippers had their chances, missing several open shots that normally go down, but the Kings held firm and finally sealed it when Collison, a former Clipper, nailed a jumper over Paul with 52 seconds left to give Sacramento a four-point lead.
But this game was all about Cousins. The fifth-year big man has put up big numbers in games before, but rarely has he demonstrated the two-way impact he showed in this game. He was a load inside, piercing the Clippers' defense with nimble finishes ...
... and pinpoint passes when the Clippers converged.
Nobody could guard him one on one in the post or stop him as he got close to the basket.
Yet Cousins was also instrumental defensively in a way we've rarely seen on losing Kings clubs. He grabbed every defensive rebound that fell near him. He negated DeAndre Jordan's presence, all while helping off him to protect the rim and contain Blake Griffin. His "two nine" game -- the act of clogging the middle without drawing a defensive three second call -- was on point. This subtle shift to cut off the basket and prevent Griffin from spinning baseline on a pick and roll was just one example.
Cousins' defense has been this good through Sacramento's first three games. The Kings are 2-1 against a rough Golden State/Portland/Clippers opening, and Cousins is a huge reason why. If he keeps this up, he'll finally get that elusive first All-Star berth.
Clippers fans will surely be concerned about their own team, which has looked wobbly in its first three games against poor competition, but it's Cousins and the Kings who deserve all the credit for the victory.