DeMarcus Cousins ‘definitely frustrated’ as his comeback hits a slump

The Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul, left, got to the basket against the Golden State Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins on Saturday.
The Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul, left, got to the basket against the Golden State Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins on Saturday. AP

The message became encouraging to hear when DeMarcus Cousins became frustrated with his tedious rehab. The message became humbling to hear anytime Cousins believed he made a breakthrough with healing his left Achilles tendon.

Dr. Rick Celebrini, the Golden State Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance, told something to Cousins that essentially became the soundtrack of his rehab from training camp to mid-January.

“There’s going to be good days and a lot of bad days,” Cousins said verbatim. “Obviously, I’m in the bad days right now.”

Is he ever. In the Warriors’ 118-112 loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday at Oracle Arena, Cousins overshadowed his fourth double-double (14 points and 14 rebounds) with a poor shooting night (4-for-12), foul trouble (four) and a team-worst plus minus (-17).

Through seven games this month, Cousins has overshadowed his dependable scoring (14.3 points) and rebounds (8.4) with poor shooting (39.2 percent), an unreliable three-point shot (20 percent), a handful of turnovers (2.7) and a whole lot of fouls (3.4). After collecting his fifth technical and three fouls that he did not agree with, Cousins lamented he needs to “try to stay out of (expletive) foul trouble.” He then said the Lord’s name in vain.

“It’s frustrating as hell,” Cousins said. “It’s part of it. Every dog has his day.”

Remember when Cousins had his day? Remember all the excitement surrounding his return from his left Achilles tendon injury? Remember how that prompted the Warriors to feel engaged? Remember those six games in January when Cousins averaged 13.8 points and shot well from the field (46 percent) and from deep (46.2 percent)? Remember when Cousins sent fear against his opponents since they were mindful he would eventually improve as he shed off his rust, enhanced his conditioning and shattered the team’s minutes restriction?

Yeah, Cousins has entered a new phase into his return. Scrutiny on why he hasn’t made the next step in mirroring the four-time All-Star once was in Sacramento (2010-2017) and New Orleans (2017-18).

“I’m in a gray area when it comes to that,” Cousins said. “I’m trying to get back to being myself and knowing guys are coming at me. Nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for me and I know that. I’m going to go out as much as I can and do what I can. It’s still a process for me. But no excuse.”

After all, the Warriors have removed his minutes restriction after the All-Star break. In the past two games, Cousins has played only 27 minutes because of his performance, conditioning and foul trouble.

Even when Cousins struggled with his issues before, the Warriors still benefited with his basketball smarts, his passing, his screen setting, his hustle, you name it. That adrenaline rush has worn off, though.

“That’s where you really have to be able to rely on execution,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ll work with him and do better. He knows that. He’s definitely frustrated. But he cares. He’s an emotional guy and wants nothing more to win and compete. We’ll help him along. He has to help himself along as well.”

That left Kerr offering sympathy for Cousins’ frustration. After all, he felt that way when he injured his left Achilles tendon last season in New Orleans. He felt that way when he fielded depressed interest in free agency, which led the Warriors to sign him at the taxpayer midlevel exception ($5.3 million). He felt that way during his rehab.

Cousins still feels that way with his current limitations. So where does Cousins begin? The Warriors-Rockets game provided a clear blueprint.

With Kerr estimating that the Rockets “run a million pick-and-rolls,” they seemingly ran almost all of them toward Cousins. Rockets guard Chris Paul, who had 23 points, attacked Cousins early as he drove around him on plays toward the basket. Just imagine what would have happened if James Harden had not sat out because of a neck injury and the flu.

Kerr argued that the Warriors have a “five-man grouping that has to defend.” But as the Warriors advance in the playoffs, those teams will likely target Cousins in those situations.

“Guys are attacking me in the pick-and-roll. That’s obvious,” Cousins said. “I just have to be ready for it and be prepared for it.”

Offensively, Cousins appears to be much more comfortable. Even if he does not like his post-up game, Cousins sounded grateful he can at least perform a baseline spin move. Cousins considers that “one of my favorite moves.” But last month, Cousins recalled he struggled going past his defenders with that move. Cousins might still struggle at the rim, but he can least drive past defenders these days.

What about his outside shooting though? Cousins initially made opponents pay for leaving him open so they could guard Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Lately, though, Cousins has not punished defenders for leaving him open. During those times, Cousins believes he needs to improve his confidence.

“Definitely frustrated. A lot of shots aren’t falling for me,” Cousins said. “Just keep working at it. There’s no doubt in my mind it will come around to me. Hopefully sooner than later. This is a process.”

The Warriors understand this is a process. That explains why Curry and Draymond Green cited patience when assessing Cousins’ play. Cousins might not have that same amount of patience. But after completing a frustrating performance against Houston, he reminded himself of Celebrini’s message. That left him feeling hopeful.

“For every storm,” Cousins said, “there’s sunshine at the end.”

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader