Cousins willing to log big minutes if Warriors need

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              Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) looks on as Golden State Warriors centre DeMarcus Cousins (0) stumbles with the ball during the second half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals, Sunday, June 2, 2019, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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TORONTO (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins says he’s good with any workload the Golden State Warriors task him with for the remainder of the NBA Finals. Start, don’t start. Play a few minutes, play big minutes.

“Whatever’s needed,” Cousins said.

It’s looking like plenty will be needed.

The Warriors are banged up, and the center who has spent most of the last 18 months in that predicament is coming back at the absolutely perfect time for the two-time defending champions. He’s gone from question-mark to game-changer, a stat-stuffer for the Warriors — who, it seems, now finally know who their starting center is the rest of the way.

Cousins played 28 minutes in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, scoring 11 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, handing out six assists and blocking two shots. With him on the floor, the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 12 points. With him on the bench, the Raptors outscored the Warriors by seven.

Put simply, he changed the game.

He also might have changed the series, which resumes in Oakland on Wednesday night for Game 3.

“On our defensive end, making his presence felt blocking shots, being in the right place at the right time, it’s a big lift for us,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “I know he’s been waiting a long time to be on this stage. Obviously with his injuries, he’s taken the challenge of inserting himself and making that transition smooth. So it’s been fun to watch. More to come.”

The fact that he’s even on the floor is a surprise to the Warriors.

It remains unclear how much they really believed their own words when they told Cousins that he had a chance of coming back this season from his torn quadriceps muscle, suffered in the opening minutes of Game 2 of the first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers.

All that matters now is that Cousins believed them.

Good thing.

Now recovered from what basically was a hole in his leg, Cousins is more than plugging a hole in the lineup.

“I want to be on this stage,” Cousins said. “This is what I’ve worked for my entire career, to be on this stage, to have this opportunity to play for something. But once they told me I had a chance, a slight chance, of being able to return, it basically was up to me and the work and the time I put in behind the injury. It was up to me. So I put the work in.”

The Warriors aren’t sure yet if Kevin Durant will be ready to play in Game 3. Backup center Kevon Looney has an upper-body injury that coach Steve Kerr sounded concerned about after Game 2. Klay Thompson, who rarely gets hurt, left Game 2 with a strained hamstring — though told Kerr he will play Wednesday.

Compared to what Cousins has gone through, those are all relatively minor deals.

He ruptured his Achilles in January 2018, missed the rest of that season, signed with the Warriors last summer in a bargain — a six-time All-Star for $5.3 million — and needed until this January to get back on the floor. And then when he finally got to be on the floor in the postseason for the first time, he ripped the quad muscle in the first quarter of Game 2 of the opening round.

Cousins played eight minutes in Game 1 of the finals, then got 28 big minutes as a starter in Game 2.

Expect another 28 minutes — or more — in Game 3.

“We do feel confident that we can continue to get good minutes from him,” Kerr said. “We’re going to need them, obviously, with all these injuries.”

That’s just fine with Cousins.

He’ll be a free agent in a few weeks, which doesn’t seem to be on his radar whatsoever right now. In a locker room where just about everybody has a handful of rings, he’s playing for his first piece of championship jewelry.

He’s not 100 percent right now. But if the Warriors need him to play as though he is, Cousins said he will.

“I’ve told you all before I don’t take any of this for granted,” Cousins said. “I’ve seen how quick this game can be taken away from you. So every chance I get to go out there and play, I’m going to leave it on the floor.”