Warriors guard Quinn Cook goes up for a lay-up against the Charlotte Hornets during fourth quarter of the game on March 31, 2019 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner)

Quinn Cook, bench producing in Durant’s absence

Kevin Durant has encouraged Quinn Cook as he recovers from a strained calf

OAKLAND — Sitting on the bench at the end of the third quarter in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets, Quinn Cook saw something that didn’t sit well with him.

After watching Kevin Durant come up hobbled with a noncontact leg injury, Cook, noticed a grimace on the face of his close friend and teammate as he headed back to the locker room.

“I saw a look on his face that I didn’t like,” Cook said. “So I just went back there to check on him and we talked for a little bit and he said he was good … I just wanted to check on my brother first.”

Durant had suffered a strained calf. It was not the Achilles injury many feared, but it would deprive the Warriors of one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA. Cook, as well as the rest of Golden State’s bench were tasked with filling the void left by the most efficient and unstoppable scorer in the league, and after finishingoff the Rockets on the road and dispatching the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, they are doing just that.

“Everybody has to step up,” Cook said. “Obviously [Durant is] the best player in the world so we don’t have that luxury just to give it to him and go get a bucket … We have to do all of the little stuff since we don’t have K out there.”

For Cook, this season hasn’t gone the way the three-year NBA veteran had initially hoped. Coming off of his first NBA championship season last year, the Duke product was projected to be an integral part of one of the thinnest Golden State benches in the last five seasons.

Thanks to the emergence of wings like Alfonzo McKinnie and bigs like Jonas Jerebko and Kevon Looney, who according to head coach Steve Kerr presented better matchup problems for opposing teams, Cook’s playing time drastically fell.

After playing 22.4 minutes per game in the 2017-18 season, Cook averaged just 14 minutes per game this year. And during the playoffs, that number dropped even further as he averaged just under seven minutes per game in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the Western Conference Semifinals against Houston, Cook played a total of 18 seconds before Durant’s injury.

“For me, I have a different perspective on it,” Cook said. “I’m in the NBA so if I’m playing or if I’m not playing, I’m always happy. I try to be the best teammate I can be. I want to be consumed with winning so if I’m in the rotation or if I’m out of the rotation, I’ll always be ready.”

Through the regular season, and the playoffs, Cook could be seen after games putting up shots inside of an empty Oracle Arena or in any number of gyms on the road.

It’s been this level of preparation that gave Kerr the confidence to call Cook’s number during the last two games of the playoffs during Game 6 in Houston and in Game 1 against Portland.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, Kerr sent Cook into the game, along with Jerebko, Looney, Jordan Bell and Shaun Livingston, after Portland had closed the third on a 18-7 run to make it a six-point contest.

With a pair of triples to start the period, Cook helped the Warriors regain control of the game and cruise to a 116-94 win to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

“Quinn [Cook] hit two of the biggest shots of the game,” Kerr said. “Back-to-back 3’s to give us some cushion. That was a really important part of the game.”

This wasn’t Cook’s first time producing for Golden State in the postseason. Last year, in the wake of a Stephen Curry MCL sprain, which kept him sidelined for six games in the playoffs, Cook was there to answer the bell for the Warriors.

In three games during that stretch, Cook played over 20 minutes, including a 25-minute Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs. With his extended playing time, the Warriors went 5-1.

“It helps a lot. Obviously experience builds your confidence, especially when you’ve had some great moments,” Cook said. “I always go back to that, especially when I wasn’t playing. Knowing that I’ve had some success in big moments.”

Through a group chat that Durant established, he’s been able to communicate with the team, and talk schematics. It’s this passion that’s helped encourage Cook to step up in his absence.

“He’s been the first one to text us all after games, he’s been very vocal in film, and he’s been very engaged with what’s going on,” Cook said after Game 1.

While Durant hasn’t been present on the floor to directly impact his team from a playing standpoint, it’s been his off-court assistance that’s helped that’s kept Cook in tune as of late.

“He’s been in my ear,” Cook said. “He’s always in my ear, always texting me. He was texting me the whole time we were in Houston. [He says] just be myself, be myself. He knows what I can do better than anybody. Telling me to be myself and stay aggressive. That’s my best friend, so it’s great to hear that from him. He gives it to me straight-up. We all have to keep stepping up in his absence.”

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