It is the Warriors’ best lineup. The most feared five-man lineup in the NBA. Golden State’s “Death Lineup” of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green strikes fear into the heart of opposing coaches.
Yet Steve Kerr (and Mike Brown) has been slow to go to it this series. In part because Green has seen some foul trouble, but also because it hadn’t mattered. The Warriors won the first two games in blowouts barely using the rotation, just 4.5 total minutes in two games.
But down with 6:30 left in a tight game, Kerr put in Green and unleashed the fully armed and operational Death Lineup.
That lineup ended the game on an 11-0 run and earned the Warriors a Game 3 win that has them on the doorstep of another title. And history.
Kerr tried to go to a similar lineup last year in the last three games of the Finals (with Harrison Barnes in place of Durant), but it didn’t work, most notably they got smoked at the start of Game 6.
This year, it’s a different Warriors team, one with more talent, but also much calmer and more focused.
“I think we just kept our poise,” Iguodala said of the late run. “In the past, we kind of got haywire and hectic. We’d try to get it all back in one play. We settled down. We got really good looks. We weren’t just firing it up. Two or three years ago, we’d just fire it up. It shows growth. Kevin Durant makes a huge pull-up three with so much confidence. He lives for those moments.”
Kerr credited that poise to the experience of losing last year in the Finals.
“I think we’re a better team partly because, obvious reasons, we have Kevin Durant on our team, but I think we’re better from our experiences,” Kerr said. “You win a championship, then you lose one in heartbreaking fashion, you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.
“So you get down in the fourth quarter, it’s a five-point game with six minutes left, you don’t say, oh, man, we’re down five, you just say there’s a ton of time left and let’s execute.”
The Warriors did execute, at both ends. Yes, Durant hit big shots, but the run was largely fueled by stops — Thompson on Kyrie Irving was a key one.
“We obviously have two of the best shot makers in the world in Steph and K.D., and those guys did a great job willing us back into it, and our defense,” Thompson said. “I think our defense was really sound. We didn’t let them get really open looks from three that they were the whole game and tried to make them beat us one-on-one, which they were, but over 48 minutes I think we can live with someone beating us one-on-one.”
The difference between this year’s “death lineup” and last year’s is the same thing that is the difference in these Finals — Durant.
“He was their closer tonight, for sure,” Kyrie Irving said. “Doing what he is supposed to be doing. He got to a spot, got a switch out on Tristan, hits a big-time shot baseline and then, I mean, just hits an unbelievable game winner, just comes down in transition, that only Kevin Durant can hit.”
Will Kerr go to his biggest weapon of a lineup in Game 4? Maybe not unless he has to.
But he’s got it in his back pocket, and Cleveland may not have an answer for it.