By Ed Klajman
Special to S.F. Examiner
TORONTO – If the Golden State Warriors are going to defeat the gritty Toronto Raptors and their defensive excellence without Kevin Durant, it’s going to take a lot more than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson hitting their usual assortment of three-pointers and Draymond Green flirting with triple-doubles.
The team needs need its unheralded bench players to step up and play a key role. And in Sunday night’s 109-104 win over Toronto, everybody got into the action, with Golden State’s bench scoring 25 points. While Toronto once again had a rotation of only eight players, there were 11 Warriors who logged at least six minutes of playing time and made a variety of significant contributions.
“Well, that’s what it takes,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “You need your bench, no matter what, but in particular when you’ve got a lot of injuries. So we’ll just continue to go to those guys and trust them, and they have proven that they can really help us.”
When Klay Thompson went down with an apparent hamstring problem in the third quarter, Quinn Cook came in and was unafraid to take the open 3-pointers that came his way – hitting on three of them at key moments, just when it looked like Toronto was about to turn the momentum.
“It felt good to see the ball go in,” Cook said. “Obviously at this stage every possession means so much.”
Cook played over 21 minutes — more minutes than he’s played since his first ever playoff game in 2018 against the San Antonio Spurs.
“Since I’ve been here that’s been our mentality,” he said, referring to the confidence of the secondary players to feel they can deliver what’s needed when it’s needed most. “Guys rest. Guys get hurt. Everybody has confidence in each other. I think that’s (bench depth) what makes us so special. Obviously, we have the star power, but when you can bring all these guys in off the bench that goes a long way.”
In the frontcourt, Andrew Bogut made his first appearance in the series. The Australian admitted that it’s never easy to spend the entire game on the bench, but he understands the importance of staying ready.
“For most of my career, I was a starter playing big minutes,” said Bogut, who started at center on Golden State’s first title team of this era. “You always look at the guys on the bench and how hard it is. Its hard to be told you will get your chance eventually. That’s why I was brought here. It wasn’t to play big minutes. It was to be ready to be called upon. And if not, be a good teammate.”
With Kevon Looney going down due to a chest contusion, Bogut played just over seven minutes, going 3-for-3 from the field, and pulling down one rebound.
Head coach Steve Kerr was particularly pleased with what he got from Bogut, who had six points, including a couple of big dunks off alley-oop passes.
“Bogut hadn’t played in the first game and three quarters, so what he did was fantastic out there. It gave us a little different look with that lob threat,” he said.
Bogut helped extend the lead to 106-94 late in the fourth quarter, tipping in a Draymond Green lob on a backdoor cut.
“My minutes are going to be up and down like a yo-yo at times, especially with the injuries we have, and foul trouble sometimes,” he said, adding that talking to his teammates on the bench keeps his mind locked into the game, so when he does get out there, he doesn’t have to think about coverages or any other game dynamics.
Bogut said the Warriors bench has some special qualities other teams can only dream about having.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have been here before,” Bogut said. One such player, Jonas Jerebko, played six minutes, going 1-of-4, but pulling down two rebounds.
“They’ve had a lot of different situations throughout their career so we’ve been down 20 and came back and won and we’ve been down 10 with 40 seconds left and won,” Bogut said. “So a lot of our guys have seen everything the NBA can throw at you. We really cherish what we have this in this locker room…And when you have Steph play and those kinds of scorers, you always feel like you are within striking distance.”