With Kevin Durant taking a break from his recent hot stretch and Stephen Curry shooting lower than 30 percent for the first time in five weeks, the Warriors were looking for somebody to fill the void.
At precisely the same time, DeMarcus Cousins was looking for a game that would remind him of the player he once was.
Both the team and the man got what they needed Monday night.
After being abused on defense in the first quarter, Cousins returned in the second quarter and went on to play perhaps his best game as a Warrior in a 121-110 victory over the Hornets at Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
“He’s had a couple other good ones, but this is the happiest he’s looked,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in North Carolina. “He looked the most comfortable tonight. He made a couple moves around the hoop where he showed great agility.
“This is the best he has looked.”
Cousins scored a season-high 24 points and also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, completing his fourth consecutive double-double -- the first Warrior to accomplish that feat since David Lee in February 2014.
Moreover, Cousins was able to flex his muscles and flash his skills for 31 minutes, the most he has played since being activated on Jan. 18 after nearly a year to recover and rehabilitate in the wake of rupturing his left Achilles' tendon.
“I’m happier about that than the actual game,” Cousins said. “I’m going to make sure I give Steve a big hug after this.”
Cousins has been pleading for more minutes, with sports medicine director Rick Celebrini and Kerr playing it cautiously.
“He has been hoping to (increase) his minutes,” Kerr said. “He’s told me that and I am well aware of that. And he played really well tonight, so we were very comfortable with the rotation and the way it worked out.”
This was quite the tonic for Cousins, who lit into himself after a poor performance in a loss to Houston on Saturday night in Oakland. The Rockets targeted his defense and thrived, forcing him to acknowledge his confidence was rattled.
So what did the Hornets do? They did what any other NBA team is going to do, at least for the foreseeable future. They targeted Boogie, putting him the pick-and-roll early and often. It worked splendidly early -- Cody Zeller scored 12 of his career-high 28 points in the first quarter -- and was successful at times afterward.
But Cousins, after faltering in the opening minutes, found his comfort zone in the second quarter and maintained it for much of the game, giving as good as he got. He worked over the Hornets on offense, using pet moves to go 9-of-15 from the field and finish plus-10 for the game.
“K has been cussing me out (saying) ‘stop thinking about it and just go play’ my game,” Cousins said, referring to Kevin Durant. “JC (assistant coach Jarron Collins) has also been in my head about just going out and being aggressive.”
Cousins generally has been aggressive. The problem was that there were too many occasions when his aggression overtook his judgment, resulting in fouls or turnovers. After giving it up six times against Houston, Cousins had one turnover against Charlotte.
“It was huge for him, more so for him to get his legs up under him, see the ball go in the rim and get back to making the moves that he normally makes,” Durant said.
This was a night when neither Durant (7-of-15, 20 points) nor Curry (5-of-18, 16 points) scorched the nets. There will be more such nights because that’s the way of the game. Klay Thompson came through with 26 points -- solid, but not indicative of a breakthrough.
That might be what Cousins did, practically diving into the gap and busting out with the kind of game that brought back a few memories.
“It feels good to get a good one under my belt,” he said. “I hope this one carries over to the next game.”