NEW ORLEANS — After corralling a Jrue Holiday miss in a crowd of dark blue jerseys and powering through a James Ennis swipe that sent his trademark headband flying but the ball in off the glass, DeMarcus Cousins went Super Saiyan, flexing low while rearing his head back for a big roar.
On the next New Orleans Pelicans possession, Cousins received the ball on the left wing and sized up Marc Gasol before firing off a quick right-left-right dribble that left the Memphis Grizzlies center in the dust. That allowed the New Orleans big man a head of steam to finish through another late swipe for a second straight and-1.
This time, the crowd belted out chants of “Boo-gie! Boo-gie!” in providing a backing track to free throw attempts in a way that’s usually reserved for resident superstar big man Anthony Davis.
In two plays, Cousins showed the rare combination of force and skill that has fueled his rise into the upper crust of NBA big men.
And with 41 points — the most since his trade from the Sacramento Kings during the All-Star break — in a 95-82 win over the Grizzlies on Tuesday, Cousins unveiled the next level the Pelicans can hit in the future and, potentially, to finish out a season that suddenly has some life to it.
“It feels good to finally tear down that wall, I guess you could say. Break out of the shell,” said Cousins, who also finished with 17 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals.
“Big man came through for us,” Holiday said. “Forty-one and 17 — that’s elite.”
The Pelicans came into the night in the midst of an offensive renaissance. A defense-first team for most of the season that scraped by on the other end, mostly via Davis’ individual brilliance, its offense has played at a top-five rate over the past five games.
But even in games in which Cousins put up his usual hefty numbers, his impact possessions could often feel like asides to the entire piece. The Pelicans surged for 123 points in a statement win on Sunday over the Minnesota Timberwolves, yet Cousins finished with 14 shot attempts, tying the fewest he has had this season during a game in which he has played at least 30 minutes.