SACRAMENTO -- DeMarcus Cousins made the media wait Thursday night at Golden 1 Center. The visiting locker didn’t even open until nearly an hour after the Pelicans 114-106 win over the Kings and then it filled to the brim with media members from all over the country.
And then the wait continued. The extra bodies in the room helped raise the temperature to sweltering. New Orleans' locker room was close to unbearable.
Cousins poked his head out and surveyed the room. He’s used to doing media following every game, but this was different. The whole night was different.
After six-plus seasons and 470 games in Kings purple, Cousins played for the first in Sacramento as an opposing player. It took very little time for him to remind fans why he was the face of the franchise.
“I was super nervous coming in,” Cousins said from his locker with sweat still dripping from his beard. “The anticipation was through the roof.”
Baseline cut, two-handed jam. That’s how the night began for Cousins, but the first half was all Kings.
Ball movement, cuts, defensive pressure - Sacramento jumped all over the Pelicans, leading by as many as 19 in the first half. For a moment, it looked like they might be able to spoil Cousins big return.
“We knew they would be juiced, we knew they’d come out swinging,” Cousins said. “And that’s exactly what they did. They’re a young, energetic team. With that being said, we knew we just had to stay poised and fight the game out.”
Through all of his ups and downs with the Kings, the term poised was very seldom used to describe Cousins. He’s a player that plays angry. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he has plenty of NBA fines to show for it.
But this wasn’t the same Cousins. He fought back the scowl and for one of the few times in his career, he seemed to embrace the moment.
“The fans we’re beautiful, they were into the game,” Cousins said. “They let it be well known they hated every shot I made. Now I see how other players feel.”
The 27-year-old center went for a game-high 41 points. He added 23 rebounds and six assists while leading his team to victory. It was the first 40-point, 20-rebound performance of his career and Cousins became the first NBA player since Chris Webber in 2001 to finish a game with 40 points, 20 rebounds and five assists.
A sellout crowd gave their former star big man a standing ovation, both during introductions and again when the Kings played a short video tribute in the early first quarter. While he was nervous and his team struggled early, it was Cousins' night, regardless of what uniform he was wearing.