DeMarcus Cousins reminds us of his potential in vintage performance vs. Rockets

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DeMarcus Cousins (Getty Images)

Let’s press pause on the DeMarcus Cousins chatter.

Not just because he lit up the Rockets on Wednesday for 27 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals, but also because he’s a six-time All-Star who contends his recovery from the torn Achilles he suffered last January is an ongoing progress.

He’s 20 games back from an injury that often robs players of their peak explosiveness. He has 15 more regular-season games with which he can continue his recovery, and then likely two playoff rounds before he would need to face the Rockets over a full series. In other words, his body won’t need to be Western Conference finals ready for two more months, which is a longer period than he has been active so far this season.

“We’ve got to remind ourselves that this is still pretty early in the process,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the game. “We’re all learning, me too. I’ve got to learn how to use him better. I thought we used him better tonight, and I thought he did a phenomenal job.”

Flashes of the old Boogie became sustained bursts of light Wednesday. He reminded us what he can be when his body feels good: a bully on the block who warps defenses inward as all-time great shooters fan out around him. Defensive stalwarts P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela did their best to harry Cousins, often swarming together to form an imposing double-team. Cousins had little trouble finishing through their contact. He then flexed and scowled and did the things we’re accustomed to seeing from him when he’s at his best.

With about five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Cousins faced up Capela, shimmied a couple of times to throw the center off-balance and then drove straight past him for a pretty reverse layup. On the very next possession, Cousins pulled up for a midrange jumper in Capela’s face. All net, and a season-high in points.

His scoring paired with a willingness to hit teammates on the perimeter for open 3-pointers was a welcome sight for Golden State.

“To be that big and strong and to be able to hit you right in your shooting pocket, it’s incredible,” Klay Thompson told ESPN’s Doris Burke after the game. “The last center I played with who was able to do that was Andrew Bogut, and he’s coming back, too.”

That’s not to say there won’t be challenges ahead for Cousins. His defense in the pick-and-roll, in particular, is a concern in extended matchups with wily ballhandlers, and one strong showing in Houston doesn’t completely alleviate that potential issue. There have been plenty of nights when he hasn’t looked as nimble.

Wednesday’s outburst, of course, came with teammate Kevin Durant (ankle) sidelined. The Warriors were able to use Cousins as a focal point in the high post, low post and screen game in situations they might have otherwise leaned toward Durant. Maybe he’ll find it more difficult to hit this type of rhythm with Durant back in the lineup down the stretch. Maybe the defensive questions will continue to linger. 

But Cousins just bulldozed one of the best teams in the NBA in their building. He’s earned more time to get himself right and ready for an expected rematch with the Rockets in mid-May.