LOS ANGELES -- DeMarcus Cousins, still carrying the remnants of defiant reputation, fouled out of a basketball game Friday night, and walked off the court not with a sneer but a grin that lit up an entire arena.
Did it before thousands of curious eyes in America’s entertainment center, as well as millions around the globe.
Did it out of pure, unabashed joy.
Did it as his teammates, riding the wave created by a man who had to re-learn how to walk and run, were standing and grinning back just as broadly.
Playing for the first time in nearly a year, Cousins did not merely survive his Warriors debut. He thrived. And largely because he did, the Warriors carved out a 112-94 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
“I felt like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said. “It’s been a long journey ... but this was probably one of best days of my life.”
Merely by joining the Warriors in their 46th game of the season, Cousins sent a jolt of energy through his teammates and, perhaps, the entire franchise.
“It was just exciting, a good energy and feeling great about our teammate that is playing basketball again,” Stephen Curry said, describing the exuberance felt when Cousins was whistled for his sixth foul with 8:51 remaining.
Insofar as the Warriors are a talented bunch, accustomed to rousing success but also prone to lapses in focus, the big center is exactly what they need physically -- of course -- but also emotionally and even psychologically.
“He’s a really good teammate,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s an emotional guy. But he’s loved, because he cares about us. He’s hilarious. He’s just one of the guys.
“So that was one bright spot in the first half of the season. Even though he didn’t play, he was around our guys and they got to know him. And you could see how important that was in the second half when he was making those shots. Just how happy everybody was for him.”
Cousins played 15 minutes and finished plus-24 for his time on the court. He scored 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. He grabbed six rebounds and also had three assists, one steal and one block.
[RELATED: Watch Boogie's powerful dunk for his first Warriors points]
“In 15 minutes, he had 14 and six,” Kevin Durant said. “You turn that to 25 minutes, that’s an easy 25 and 10.”
There were times when the rust showed. He tried to execute a “Eurostep” maneuver, and it failed badly, resulting in an air ball. He earned points for courage but demerits for execution. And the fouls kept coming, some plainly legitimate and others less so.
Only once did Cousins flare up ever so briefly before going back to work.
No doubt much of Cousins’ joy stems from him dropping in a pair of 3-pointers 32 seconds apart, which expanded the Warriors’ lead from nine to 15. The Clippers never got any closer.
“When he hit two big shots that really broke the whole game open, it was kind of fitting,” Kerr said. “We’re all really happy for him. It’s been a long haul, a long road back for him. He looked great out there.”
It’s one thing to participate, quite another to contribute in such an impactful way.
Returning to NBA basketball after 11 months of rehabilitating a ruptured Achilles tendon, Cousins had to learn to walk again, and to run. Then, too, the intensity of intrasquad scrimmages can’t begin to compare to that of actual game action.
“It was amazing,” Curry said.
[RELATED: Cousins shakes nerves, rust in first game as a Warrior]
Cousins will keep defenses honest, as Durant said. He will provide strength in the middle, as Kerr said. He made them better immediately, and it’s only the beginning, as Curry noted.
“My teammates were great,” Cousins said. “They’ve supported me through this entire process. The organization has supported me through this entire process. They made it easy and smooth for me as much as they could.
“I thank them.”
It was just as clear that, on this night, they thank him. The Warriors are playing well, feeling good, and now they have a weapon that energizes them. Look out, NBA.