DeMarcus Cousins blocks out noise, plays 'complete game' for Warriors

DeMarcus Cousins blocks out noise, plays 'complete game' for Warriors

HOUSTON -- DeMarcus Cousins let out a loud roar moments after hitting a wing jumper over Clint Capela late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over the Rockets

The basket, which clinched a season-high 27 points, pushed Golden State's lead to 13, but, more importantly, signified the latest step in Cousins' journey with the Warriors. 

Since his return more than two months ago from a torn Achilles, Cousins has enjoyed impressive scoring performances, dealt with criticism of his defense and the question of if he'll ever regain his All-Star powers. But with Kevin Durant out with ankle injury, the four-time All-Star provided a positive sign towards his progress and what could be if he's at full strength. 

"He just played one of the most complete games since he's been here," said Klay Thompson, who scored 30 points in the 106-104 victory. "He adds a whole new dimension to our team. You saw what he can do with us tonight." 

With the Rockets playing a switch-heavy defense, Cousins routinely found himself in the post with a guard defending. Beating the obvious mismatch, Cousins feasted, scoring 27 points, adding eight rebounds and seven assists. 

More importantly, against a pick and roll heavy Rockets offense, Cousins was disciplined when switched onto James Harden and Chris Paul. During the first quarter, he routinely contested shots without fouling and even drew a charge on Harden.

"The rhythm was good for me tonight," Cousins said. "I got my feet underneath me and it was a smooth game for me so I can't complain."

Performances like Wednesday's have been hard to come by in recent games. Entering the matchup against Houston, he averaged 12.0 points on just 41 percent from the field, hitting just one 3-pointer. Worse, concerns over his defense began to emerge, despite the teammates and coaches publically defending the former All-Star. 

"I mean it's cool but we've been in this business long enough to know how it goes," Cousins said of the criticism. "I've been around this team long enough to know how things go around here. You're always looking for something to write a story about. I mean I could care less, y'all gotta do y'all job and I gotta do mine. Y'all looking for a story. It is what it is." 

Cousins has had a bit of an adjustment dealing with the intense news cycle that follows the back-to-back champs. During the first 15 years of his basketball life, including high school and college, Cousins never played in media market higher than 20th. 

"It's something every day," Cousins said. "My grandmother, when I was younger, she had this show she used to watch, I'm sure y'all have heard of it: 'As the World Turns.' She called it her 'stories,' I used to watch it with her and every episode it was something. That's what this has turned into."

Does he like the extra attention?

"No, I don't," Cousins deadpanned. "I play basketball. I don't look for drama or stories or anything like that. I just want to go play basketball."

As for his on-court integration with the Warriors, while rapidly improving, there's still work to be done. Throughout the Warriors' four-year run to the Finals, the team has never had a threat as talented as Cousins in the frontcourt - a skilled center who can play back to the basket. With an offense that relies on ball movement, Golden State has to adjust to him as much as he has to adjust to his teammates. With his midseason return being another factor, there's still a ways to go.  

"I think it's coming," Cousins said. "We've had stretches where its kind of flowing for everyone but this is a team that's been together for a while so they play a certain type of way and they're used to playing a certain type of way. So for me to just come in, I'm not expecting it for this team to adjust to me, I have to adjust to them and I'll have my opportunities. All I have to do is take advantage of those opportunities."

[RELATED: Cousins: Dubs had better energy]

"I think we have to remind ourselves that it's still pretty early in the process," head coachSteve Kerr added. "We're all learning ... I have to learn how to use him better. I thought we used him better tonight." 

For now, both the Warriors and Cousins can be happy with the latest step in the Boogie Experience. But with Oklahoma City next on the ledger and no clear date on Durant's return, both sides hope these performances can continue.

"This was a good win for us," Kerr said. "We have 15 games left now to continue to figure out how to use everybody, combinations and all that stuff. This was a good night."

Why Bob Myers believes Warriors' title run felt like 'running five marathons'

Why Bob Myers believes Warriors' title run felt like 'running five marathons'

It's hard to blame the man.

After five consecutive runs to the NBA Finals, just about every member of the Golden State Warriors organization was drained. General manager Bob Myers recently joined The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami on his podcast, and went in-depth on the toll these marathon seasons have taken.

“Thinking back to my state of mind, there's things I know. I was tired, I know that. Just the five years, I don't know how that plays with the audience and listeners and how to convey that appropriately, but internally, for those that work here, that was, we felt that.”

“And not having time each offseason, leading right into the draft, leading right into free agency, I look at it as running five marathons back to back to back. And the fifth one, you're just like 'Can we cross the line?'”

Myers also constantly dealt with questions regarding the 2019 free agency period throughout the tail end of the season.

“I didn't have that kind of certainty that you intimated as far as did I know if Kevin was gonna go or stay. It was more of 'There's a lot of work to do and a lot of unknowns’.”

[RELATED: Warriors projected to face Clippers in playoffs by ESPN real plus-minus]

KD’s departure put a bow on what was one of the most dominant three-year runs by a team in NBA history. Although the team salvaged All-Star D’Angelo Russell in the Durant sign-and-trade, the team still enters 2020 with a litany of unknowns.

“I don't think it was a fear of what was upcoming, it was just more of, there's a lot of uncertainty.”

Warriors projected to face Clippers in playoffs by ESPN real plus-minus

Warriors projected to face Clippers in playoffs by ESPN real plus-minus

With the absence of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson's torn ACL and so many changes to multiple teams, the Western Conference is more wide open than ever for the upcoming 2019-20 NBA season. 

The Warriors' time ruling the West might have come to an end, too. Golden State lost Durant to Brooklyn and will miss Thompson's two-way play for multiple months. For these reasons, ESPN's real-plus minus has the Warriors finishing the regular season closer to the No. 8 seed than the No. 1 seed. 

The projection system predicts the Warriors to be the No. 6 seed in the West. Since RPM debuted after the Warriors' first title under coach Steve Kerr, the equation has projected the Warriors to win at least 60 wins. Not anymore. 

Golden State's new-look squad is projected to have just 46.5 wins by ESPN's RPM. The Warriors have won at least 57 games in each of Kerr's five years coaching the team. 

According to the projection system, the Warriors will have fewer wins than the Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, Jazz and Lakers. It has the Mavericks and Blazers rounding out the top-eight seeds, with the Kings barely missing the playoffs. 

This would set up a Warriors-Clippers matchup in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The two teams opened up the playoffs this past season, and the Clippers surprisingly pushed the Warriors to six games. But the Clips revamped their roster this offseason, adding stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

[RELATED: Myers explains what attracted Warriors to D'Angelo Russell]

By the time the playoffs roll around, the Warriors should have Thompson back and well understanding of each other with many new faces playing together. 

If this is how the first round of the playoffs turn out, we could be in for a treat right away.