On Tuesday afternoon, Finland simply didn't belong on the same basketball court as the United States, who stormed out to an early lead and finished the rout with a 59-point victory, one that left little doubt about the strength and depth of the U.S. roster.
But during a game in which there was no true standout performer, DeMarcus Cousins' effort stood out in a big way.
Granted, "Boogie" was not the best player on the court.
That honor would have to go to Anthony Davis (17 points, four rebounds and an assist), James Harden (nine points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals and a block) or Klay Thompson (18 points, one rebound and two steals). Take your pick, as there are legitimate reasons for each of the three.
The defense also shined, forcing 31 turnovers and holding Finland to a putrid two points and no field-goal attempts during a dominant second-quarter performance.
So, you might ask why did Cousins stand out on such a night?
It's a legitimate question, as the big man who plays his NBA ball with the Sacramento Kings finished the game with nine points, 10 rebounds and one steal on 3-of-4 shooting from the field. At least from a statistical standpoint, he wasn't all that special—though he did manage to grab more boards than any other player in the contest.
For Cousins, it was all about effort. There was no doubt he wanted to be on the floor, contributing for his country whenever Mike Krzyzewski called his number. He displayed none of the mental issues that have plagued him throughout his career in the Association.
Not once did he pout, though there was no reason for the United States to complain about anything on Tuesday afternoon given the state of numbers on the scoreboard. He never let a bad call get the best of him, nor was he provoked by anything that happened during the proceedings. There was even one potentially troublesome moment when he explained he didn't touch a ball that went out of bounds, only to find the official disagreeing with him.
No reaction. Perfect.
Instead, he was motivated and dedicated to the cause at hand. The entire game was filled with moments that tested Boogie, and he passed each one with flying colors.
As Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley noted, he kept his composure after a hard foul, something that doesn't often happen in Sac-Town:
This applied to the other end as well:
The play that stood out most was a rebound that actually went out of bounds and gave Finland an extra possession. Early on in the proceedings, Stephen Curry launched a three-pointer from the left wing, and it clanged off the back rim. Cousins and Kenneth Faried both charged from the weak side, eager to grab the board and give Team USA another possession.
Instead of corralling the miss, the two bigs got in each other's way and lost possession of the rock. Rather than getting frustrated or upset, Boogie just jogged down the court with a bit of a mea culpa look on his face.
Thus far, and it's admittedly early on in the World Cup proceedings, Cousins is living up to his word. Remember, it was only shortly before the start of the tournament that he told USA Basketball's official site he thought of himself as a role model:
I am a role model, absolutely. There are different types of people out there, and I come from a different type of place. So, I absolutely think I am a role model.
I come from a place where there are not a lot of opportunities. People there, they don’t ever really dream big because they don't think it ever really exists. Like the things you see on TV, they think it's just a false world. And them seeing me make it, they believe it is possible. Those people grew up with me; they have seen the struggles; they have seen me fight and work my way to where I am now, so I absolutely believe I am a role model.
Cousins is maturing into a dedicated team member, excelling on a squad that doesn't feature him as one of the best players. He could be, but this isn't like his days with the Kentucky Wildcats or Sacramento Kings. He's coming off the bench, and quality play from him is more of a luxury than a necessity for Team USA.
However, it's an awfully nice luxury, because motivated play from the 24-year-old center would help negate one of the Americans' biggest weaknesses.
"If he can keep his feelings for the FIBA referees in check, and if he gets out and runs the court, he could play a bigger than expected role for Team USA," wrote Kurt Helin for ProBasketballTalk before Cousins took the court against Finland. "The fact is that against some of the Americans biggest hurdles—Lithuania, Spain—Team USA is going to need Cousins. And that fire he brings."
For Team USA, the strength of the roster undeniably lies in the guard play.
The frontcourt, led by Davis, is the biggest weakness, though that could quickly change if Cousins becomes a dominant, motivated force. After all, he's a fringe All-Star in the NBA, and he's able to bully most everyone he squares off against on the international scene.
Should Team USA pull off a big-man rotation that relies heavily on Davis, Cousins and Faried while bringing Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee off the bench in less-important situations, that's no longer a huge weakness. And as Helin noted, that's quite important against the better teams in the field.
Fortunately, Cousins will have a few more games to prove himself.
This was a great start, and he'll have plenty more time to continue what he started while the Americans waltz their way through a weak Group C, one that features Finland (check), the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Ukraine and Turkey. There's nary a tough game there, and Team USA should end up playing Group D's fourth-place team in the knockout round.
Chances are that will be Mexico, though there's also a chance Australia or Slovenia fails to live up to the expectations. Regardless, those are all teams whose strengths lie outside the realm of big men, or at least don't boast truly dominant centers.
When Lithuania and Spain come calling—and they will—things get a bit more serious.
By that time, Cousins can do his country a huge service if he continues acting like a model citizen and letting his contribution on the court speak for itself.
Beating Finland by such a huge margin and featuring a suffocating defense was a dream start for Coach K's squad. It only got better with this type of performance from the mercurial big man.
Big things are in Team USA's future now, both literally and figuratively.
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