DeMarcus Cousins was 'the happiest he's looked' after breakthrough vs. Hornets

DeMarcus Cousins was 'the happiest he's looked' after breakthrough vs. Hornets

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.

[RELATED: Steph stresses Dubs 'cannot lose the joy' as they struggle]

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.”

Why Steph Curry's gesture at Oracle Arena finale touched Monta Ellis

Why Steph Curry's gesture at Oracle Arena finale touched Monta Ellis

For the final regular-season game in Oracle Arena history, Warriors star Steph Curry arrived rocking a No. 8 Monta Ellis jersey.

"Obviously, a lot of history that Monta was able to be a part of with the 'We Believe' Warriors era, and when I got here my rookie year, he was that guy," Curry told reporters back on April 7. "And I think for me, in terms of representing him on the last game, it meant a lot because we were in that backcourt together. 

"When he was traded it was a tough time in terms of the transition of the organization and things like that. I wanted to pay, obviously, honor to him in terms of his story, coming out of high school and doing what he was able to do. He was an Oakland fan, Warrior fan. Beloved guy."

Shortly after he got wind of Curry's gesture, Monta reacted on Instagram. But he recently expanded on his feelings.

"The biggest thing that I always wanted to do, like, when I leave this Earth, is know that I impacted somebody in some shape or form, no matter if it was on or off the basketball court," he told Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. "That’s my biggest thing.

"So to hear that from him, man, it just means I did what I was supposed to do. I made an impact on somebody’s life before I left here.”

During the 2009-10 season -- Curry's rookie campaign -- Ellis averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game.

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The following year, he racked up 24.1 points and 5.6 assists per contest, while Curry registered 18.6 points and 5.8 assists per night.

Although Monta was disappointed with how the franchise handled his trade to Milwaukee in March 2012, he has nothing but love for Dub Nation.

“That’s my second home,” he told Thompson. “I love Oakland. The fans are like no other. I’ve never seen any other fans in America like Oracle.”

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Why Steve Kerr’s message to enjoy Warriors' dynasty should’ve been heeded

Why Steve Kerr’s message to enjoy Warriors' dynasty should’ve been heeded

Steve Kerr knew this season would be different, how could he not?

Still, even the Warriors head coach couldn't have predicted how drastically different his sixth season in the Bay would be. 

Kevin Durant left to become a Net. Klay Thompson likely will miss the entire season rehabbing his torn ACL. Then, Steph Curry broke his left hand and will be re-evaluated in February and D'Angelo Russell missed nine of the first 21 games with a thumb sprain. This has left Kerr to lead a group of rookies, role players and reclamation projects through the NBA season.

Dynasties aren't built to last. Kerr, a six-time NBA champion as a player and coach, knows that. He knows how fleeting championship runs can be. The Warriors have gone from dreaded bully thirsting for June champagne to a champion laying on the canvas as a 12-month recharge washes over them.

“No,” Kerr laughed when NBC Sports Chicago's K.C. Johnson asked if he thought anyone savored last season's run when he told them to. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors will be back. That's the plan at least. This season serves as a reboot point. A mere pitstop in a dynasty that has been paused not concluded.

But plans, even those best laid, rarely go as drawn up. Kerr knows that. That's why he implored everyone from Curry to those sitting in the nosebleeds at Oracle Arena to enjoy one of the most impressive runs in NBA history.

You never know when things will come back, and things surely never will be the way they were when Curry and Warriors were pulverizing teams into oblivion en route to five-straight NBA Finals appearances.

That ride, as Kerr predicted, came to an end.

A new one has begun.

[RELATED: Warriors' plan might draw speculation after two inexplicable losses]

The Warriors sit at 4-19. Rookies Eric Paschall and Ky Bowman have played well, as has veteran swingman Glenn Robinson III. But it's unlikely to amount to many wins this season. It's instead about teaching, about growth for next season when a fully loaded Warriors team will enact its vengeance on an NBA that is taking pleasure in pummeling the wounded champions. 

That will be a sweet moment for Kerr and the Warriors, should it come.

Pleasure, in sports and in life is, fleeting. Titles come. Confetti falls. Elation hits. Then, it's on to next year, and one day, before you've blinked, things are different. The run is over and a new course has been charted.

That course is expected to get the Warriors back to the top soon. If it does, expect everyone to heed Kerr's advice and enjoy the ride.