This was DeMarcus Cousins in the first game of the 2017-18 season.
This was DeMarcus Cousins in his first game of the 2018-19 season.
You see that extra fire?
Cousins, a motivated star searching for his resurgence, is officially back from an Achilles' tendon injury, suffered 357 days ago. The skilled center also made his debut as a Golden State Warrior, a long-awaited moment after Cousins relocated to the Bay Area last summer and joined the two-time defending champs.
It was an excoriated move, but one he felt was necessary after not receiving the respect ― or more specifically, the money ― he’d hoped for in free agency. In the process, he joined what he believes is the "most hated team in sports" and is not looking back.
After months of rehab, Cousins was finally ready to make his first 2018-19 appearance and Golden State was more than ready to unleash him.
The Warriors boasted a starting lineup with 25 combined All-Star nods when they tipped off Friday’s game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center. They became the first team since the 1975-76 Boston Celtics to start five players that were All-Stars the previous season.
Once the game tipped, Cousins was finding his groove and utilizing his prodigious gifts. In just 15 minutes of action, the Warriors' new weapon finished with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. He also went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and posted a plus-21 when on the floor.
The 6-foot-11 talent did show some rust to his game, picking up six fouls in 15 minutes. It’s the 50th time of his career he’s fouled out ― more than twice as many times as any other player since he entered the league in 2010 ― but Cousins, in true Cousins fashion, said the referees and new rules are to blame.
“They was hating on me tonight,” he said on the television broadcast. “I gotta get used to this new NBA.”
And we have to get used to seeing this:
Irving leads the way
Much was made about Kyrie Irving publicly lambasting the young members of the Boston Celtics last weekend. The eighth-year point guard apologized to his teammates (as well as a certain former teammate) and made a tweak to his leadership style.
Part of the new approach includes having more trust in a group of teammates that were one win away from the NBA Finals without him, while steadily maintaining the killer instinct that helped earn him a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That combination has been on display in the two games since his public critique, and one could argue these are the best consecutive games he’s played this season.
The five-time All-Star has registered 29 assists in wins over the Raptors and Grizzlies, the most he’s had in a two-game span since joining the Celtics.
In Friday’s contest, Irving showcased a melange of facilitating and scoring while pulling above his average on the glass. The 26-year-old had never posted a stat line with at least 38 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists in his NBA career before Friday.
He also became the first Celtics player to put together those totals in a game since Larry Bird in 1992.
Seven of Irving's 11 dimes were on 3-pointers as the point guard was consistently penetrating and kicking it out to teammates on the perimeter.
Here's one to Jaylen Brown...
another to Terry Rozier...
and a behind-the-back beauty to Marcus Smart.
Smart, known more for his rugged defense than his sharpshooting skills, drilled 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
A leader elevates his teammates, and a cognizant Irving is doing just that right now. This version of him could be scary.
Four incredible Nets stats
The Brooklyn Nets are quietly having quite the season.
The motivated, contract-year D’Angelo Russell is playing the best ball of his career, the underrated and overlooked Spencer Dinwiddie is putting up Sixth Man of the Year credentials and the fearless, rim-protecting Jarrett Allen has been racking up highlights.
Since Dec. 7, the Nets are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best record in the NBA.
A significant amount of credit goes to coach Kenny Atkinson, who has directed an improved squad ― Brooklyn has won 16 of 21 since an 8-18 start ― that earned its latest victory in Orlando by erasing a 21-point deficit.
Here are four incredible stats:
Russell scored at least 30 points for the seventh time this season. The former No. 2 overall pick reached the 30-point threshold just seven times in his career prior to 2018-19.
Russell scored the last 19 points for the Nets to end the first half, the most consecutive points scored by any player this season. He shot 5-for-5 from deep and outscored the Magic, 19-13, during that stretch.
Thriving in his second season, Allen now has 393 rebounds, surpassing his rebound total of 388 from his rookie campaign. And it took only 45 games to reach that threshold compared to 72 last year.
The Nets erased a 21-point deficit to notch their biggest comeback win in the Brooklyn era. It had been eight seasons since the Nets rallied from 20 down.
Russell finished the night with 40 points and reached that mark on a cold-blooded 3 with 27.1 seconds left in the game, lifting Brooklyn to a 117-115 win.
Ice in his veins.
Jazz have a streak going
The Utah Jazz, one of the more disappointing teams this season, have now won six straight games. Are the gents in Salt Lake City turning their season around the same way they did last year at this time?
Let's see: They’ve beaten the Cavaliers, Clippers, Pistons, Bulls, Lakers and Magic during their recent run.
So, close call.
The Jazz do have the league’s best defense throughout their winning streak.
Curry's pregame hoop tricks
Seriously, name one.
Who had the better spin move?
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on Klay Thompson...
Dwyane Wade on Reggie Jackson...
or Blake Griffin on James Johnson.
Griffin's smooth, "legal" step-back out of the spin added some extra spice to get my vote.