The person wearing No. 15 for the Kings for two-plus quarters might have been DeMarcus Cousins in name, but not in spirit.
That can happen when you’ve been suspended for technical fouls and you know the next two will result in another one-game banishment.
Playing without emotion is the antithesis of Cousins. But he tried to do it Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks at Golden 1 Center and looked listless as the Sacramento Kings sloshed to a 22-point deficit in the third quarter.
“I’m dealing with my own demons right now,” Cousins said. “I’ve got to focus on what’s going on in the moment. I did a terrible job of that in the first half and some of the second as well. But my teammates were very supportive and pulled me through. Matt (Barnes) chewed me out a little bit and told me to get my head out of my (butt) and it worked.”
Cousins and the Kings collectively did that, rallying for their biggest comeback win of the season, 108-107 over the Hawks.
Kings Coach Dave Joerger said Cousins is trying hard to be on his best behavior, even if takes him out of character.
“It’s like he’s playing with one hand behind his back if he can’t ever say anything,” Joerger said. “He doesn’t want to hurt the team. He doesn’t want to get another technical. So we’ve got to find a way to be able to play with emotion and yet not (have) it come out.”
The Kings made a franchise-record 18 three-pointers and Darren Collison’s made the winning layup with 3.5 seconds to play in a game Sacramento trailed for all but the final 1:14.
“Our fight and our heart is undeniable,” Cousins said. “ ... With that being said, we can’t keep putting ourselves in that position. We’ve got to make these games easier on ourselves.”
Cousins has done the opposite lately. In an attempt to calm the noise following the suspension, he deactivated his accounts on Twitter and Instagram, which surprised many considering how engaging Cousins can be on social media.
And then he tried to play without the fire that defines his style in an effort to avoid drawing attention from the officials. He even declined to be a part of the pregame meeting with referees in which captains customarily participate.
“I don’t know how to be myself anymore,” Cousins said. “It’s something I’m going to have to figure out — hopefully it’s for the better.”
Cousins wasn’t himself entering the fourth quarter. He was shooting 2-for-11 with seven turnovers. But he figured out enough in the fourth, where he scored 12 of his 22 points.
Cousins said he didn’t learn anything from the suspension. It has been especially vexing for him considering he’s been praised by coaches and teammates for not berating officials as he’d done in the past.
“I’ve got to figure it out on my own,” Cousins said.
The Kings just want Cousins to be careful.
“You just have to find that thin line,” Barnes said. “You can’t play emotionless, especially somebody like him. We need him to be him, we just need him to be smarter. I think he listens to me because I’ve been through all that and I’m on the edge sometimes, so I know how to talk to him and get through to him and have him lock in.”
Collison finished with 22 points and Ben McLemore added a season-high 22 points and matched his career high with nine rebounds for the Kings (22-32). McLemore made six 3-pointers, also a career high.
Cousins finished with 11 rebounds, seven assists and matched his season high with nine turnovers.
Anthony Tolliver scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led Atlanta (31-23) with 28 points. Paul Millsap had 25 points and Dennis Schroder had 20 points and six assists.
Barnes said he told Cousins that for the Kings to win, they need him. And they must figure out how to stoke the fire without drawing the ire of the officials.
“He’s got a lot on his shoulders, he’s only human,” Barnes said. “So he knows when he messes up. He’s hard on himself. ... I told him, you’ve got to start embracing it. People are going to hate you or love you; that can’t affect your outlook on life or the game.”