OAKLAND -- DeMarcus Cousins did a lot of talking Tuesday night, all of it on the basketball court, and every word is bound to reach the ears of centers around the NBA.
He’s not all the way back to pre-injury levels, but the Warriors big man continues to prove he’s close enough that anyone in his way had better get ready for a long night.
Nikola Jokic was in the way. The Denver Nuggets' 7-footer is the only center in the Western Conference to be at least whispered about this season in MVP debates.
Jokic is no joke.
Yet that’s exactly what he was against Cousins, who again resorted to what must be mystical powers to wipe the floor for the second time in four weeks with the most important player on the team battling the Warriors for conference supremacy.
With Cousins owning the paint and giving Jokic 28 minutes of futility, the Warriors rolled to a 30-point lead before settling for a 116-102 victory at Oracle Arena that pushed Denver a full two games behind the Warriors in the West, with five games remaining.
After Boogie submitted a season-high 28 points (shooting 12 of 17 from the field, 2 of 4 from deep), 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals, he dressed deliberately before strolling out of the locker room and wordlessly past the interview room, out into the night, unwilling to relive his fantastic contribution.
So, instead, Draymond Green took the mic, seeming to relish every moment.
“Yeah, with a smile on my face,” Green said when asked if he was able to take note of his teammate’s work. “Just watching Cuz talk, and obviously backing up the talk he’s doing on the floor with his play. He has dominated that matchup these last couple times. It’s good to see. He kind of goes at every guy. ... Since his injury, people try to put some guys before him, and he goes at every one of them.
“So, it’s personal for him. And when you can kind of back that up with the talent that he has, it’s special to watch.”
Jokic totaled 10 points (on 4-of-10 shooting from the field), six assists, five rebounds, four steals -- and six turnovers. He was minus-10 for the game and seemed to shrink as the night wore on.
“I’ve played against him since he was in Sacramento,” Jokic said of Cousins. “Since he came back, this is the second time I have played him. He’s playing well. He’s motivated.”
Cousins was considered perhaps the league’s No. 1 center, surely on offense, prior to rupturing his left Achilles tendon in January 2018. He spent nearly a year recovering from surgery and rehabilitating -- signing a one-year contract with the Warriors in the midst of that -- and was activated on Jan. 18.
“Listen, he’s still building a foundation coming off the injury,” Stephen Curry said. “But he takes those challenges seriously. He wants to let people know he’s still DeMarcus Cousins. He can dominate a game, and tonight was another example of that.”
A little more than two months since his Warriors debut, Cousins has twice outplayed Jokic, who is averaging 20.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. The Nuggets center's 12 triple-doubles are second in the league, behind only Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
In two games against Cousins, Jokic has 26 points (9-of-20 shooting), 12 rebounds, 10 assists and eight turnovers in 57 minutes. He was minus-29 when the teams met March 5.
Credit Cousins, who clearly summons something extra against the impressive new breed of big men.
“It was definitely a statement game for DeMarcus,” Green told NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Kerith Burke immediately after the game. “He was the best big man in this league for some years, and he’s coming back to take that.”
Cousins wasn’t in the mood to share his thoughts, and the Warriors' media relations team could not persuade him otherwise. So he let his game do the talking, and it was loud enough to be heard around the league.