Lakers fans roared at the end of the first quarter, the Golden State Warriors unable to score on the final possession before the buzzer.
It was a small victory during a quarter in which Golden State wasn’t at its best but still outscored the Lakers by five points.
But that’s what the Warriors do. They are so good, you clap when you’re on pace to be beaten by 20 points.
The Warriors cruised Monday night, beating the Lakers 130-111 at Staples Center in a game with only two lead changes before the Warriors dominated in a way they do better than anyone else.
Waves and waves of talent roll in as if it’s being pulled by the tides, a different challenge, a top-line talent hitting opponents with each substitution.
Those waves got bigger in the last week, with another All-Star joining the Warriors lineup in the form of DeMarcus Cousins, who made his season debut Friday night against the Clippers, returning after sitting out the season’s first 45 games because of an Achilles tendon tear.
He’s an immense talent, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound center with some of the best post moves in the NBA.
He’s talented enough to stroke three-point shots and big enough to form a wall between offensive players and the basket.
Since Steve Kerr started coaching the Warriors, they’ve won 298 games and lost 77.
They’ve been to the NBA Finals four consecutive years, winning three titles.
And without Cousins they’d probably still be favored to win their third in a row. But with him? The Warriors are even scarier.
“DeMarcus changes things because of the options we can have,” Kerr said. “…We’re not used to having that. …
“A guy like DeMarcus can change your entire strategy if you want.”
Oh great, another option, another way to blow teams out, another way to humiliate opponents the way they humiliated the short-handed Lakers.
The Warriors certainly didn’t need it, but now they have it.
There are only two real hopes for the rest of the league.
One, the Warriors aren’t as deep as they were in previous runs, and that’s a problem that will probably resolve once veteran players start getting bought out of their contracts.
Two, the rest of the NBA has to hope that the Warriors can’t integrate Cousins into what they do, that he’s too used to being the top option on a team to be part of the Warriors’ find-the-hot-hand culture.
While Stephen Curry is having an absurdly good season — his three-point shooting percentage (.454 before Monday) is better than Lonzo Ball’s free-throw shooting percentage (.417) — he deferred to Klay Thompson on Monday at Staples Center, celebrating as Thompson made his first 10 three-point shots, once putting both hands in the air before a shot even left Thompson’s fingertips.
“I think DeMarcus sees that, recognizes that. It’s a different role for him,” Kerr said. “He’s been the man on teams that needed him to be the savior. That’s not required now.”
It’s a process, Kerr has said, and you could see it at times Monday.
Cousins missed a layup at one end and complained to the officials that he was fouled. And while Cousins groused, Lakers center Ivica Zubac scored on an uncontested dunk at the other end of the floor.
“I think playing on this team provides security to all the guys, knowing they can rely on each other — not just because of their skill and talent but because of their unselfish nature,” Kerr said. “Everybody in this group really enjoys playing a role. None of them have to be the guy. They all sort of just do their thing, but they do that together.”
Maybe this is Cousins’ thing, that he’s not able to flip the switch as a part of something instead of being the headliner.
But even that line of thinking is a stretch.
That play where Cousins didn’t get back down the court to guard Zubac? The Warriors were up by 26 points at the time.
The culture in Golden State might be too good for someone to damage badly enough to make a difference. Earlier this season when the Warriors lost to the Clippers at Staples Center, an intense argument between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green escalated to a degree where the team suspended Green.
On the court, the Warriors have gotten over it and are playing their best basketball of the season right now, with Green and Durant working together like nothing happened.
In his second game back, Cousins struggled.
He missed seven of nine shots but still finished with eight points, nine rebounds and five assists. He went to the bench at the end of the game, frustrated with his play.
It didn’t matter.
Even if it was easier to integrate Durant into their system, the Warriors have proved that they can take on challenges like these.
“Once he signed there, you can’t really do [anything] about it,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said of Cousins. “I’m a competitor so I didn’t really get scared or tremble.”