Over the last couple years, the Warriors have changed the league in a number of ways: they’ve shown that shooting can win championships, that switching everything on defense can be dominant, and that so many stars can truly complement each other.
But maybe the strangest thing they’ve proven is that extremely small lineups can destroy defenses. In 2015, the lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green stretched defenses with its shooting and passing ability, mostly due to Stephen Curry’s magnificent shot creation. Defensively, the so-called Death Lineup could neutralize ballhandlers and big men alike with their length, ability to switch, and underrated strength.
It’s three years later, and the Warriors have replaced the least dangerous player in that lineup with Kevin Durant, one of the greatest scorers of all time. Moreover, Durant offers more size and shot-blocking ability, and given his unofficial height of seven feet, makes the supposedly smallball lineup not small at all.
This new Death Lineup has been called many things, notably the Hamptons Five, after the recruitment of KD in the Hamptons during the 2016 offseason. It was successful in the 2016-2017 season, but it struggled in this regular season: there were some questions about its effectiveness coming into the playoffs.
But ever since Stephen Curry returned from injury, they’ve been amazing. The defensive intensity is back, Andre Iguodala looks like his old self, Green and Iguodala are hitting enough threes, and of course, Curry and Durant have looked special. Curry still has looked a little off conditioning wise, but he’s shown the quickness and mobility necessary.
Kerr has always been reluctant to use this lineup: it goes against his basketball philosophy of sharing the ball and getting role players involved. In Game 3 of the Pelicans series, he inserted Stephen Curry and JaVale McGee into the starting lineup to give the team a more traditional look. But it was simply a bad matchup against the Pelicans frontcourt of Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic, and poor starts in the first and third quarter likely cost them the game.
So Kerr decided to trust in the dominance of his stars, and started the Death Lineup for the first time ever on Sunday.
The results were astounding. In eighteen minutes, the lineup was a +26, posting a great 130.1 offensive rating and a ridiculous 66.5 defensive rating. With the Pelicans focusing on neutralizing Curry, KD took over offensively. It was the difference in a blowout win.
Iguodala waved Klay out of the corner knowing Curry was popping out - Pels not ready for it at all. 20 points on 8-13 shooting to open the game for the Hamptons Five #TwitterNBAShow https://t.co/OsWzn0jfeZ pic.twitter.com/ydXCOKSePY— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) May 6, 2018
Against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors will likely have to rely on the Death Lineup quite a bit. But it’s their best chance at beating them, and the Rockets will have their hands full. Add in a little Kevon Looney, David West, Shaun Livingston, and Quinn Cook, and the Warriors should be ready for another Finals appearance.