NBA Playoffs: Is the Death Lineup Killing the Golden State Warriors?
When implemented during the Warriors first and second NBA championships, their Death Lineup, also called the Hampton Five lineup, was something no NBA team could match up with. It featured a core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green at the center position.
The lineup proved to be very effective as Green’s versatility not only passing the ball but defending bigger players made things hard for opposing offenses.
The lineup became an even bigger problem for the league when Golden State signed superstar Kevin Durant after the 2016-17 season. Durant, normally a natural small forward, slotted in at center in the Death Lineup, and he used his agility and athleticism to attack centers trying to defend him in the open floor.
However, there have been times where the Death Lineup hasn’t worked. Will the lineup’s effectiveness or lack thereof impact the Warriors achieving a three-peat.
During the regular season and postseason
The Warriors’ Death Lineup has played pretty well during the regular season since Durant joined the team. In 529 minutes of game time, they have outscored opponents by 268 points, equal to 20.5 points per 100 possessions, according to FiveThirtyEight.
There have been signs of vulnerability this year from the lineup, and you can attribute it to poor play from Draymond Green throughout the season or a lower effort on the defensive end of the floor.
Cause for concern
Some glaring numbers could give Warriors fans a cause for concern when it comes to the Death Lineup.
In the 32 playoff games that the lineup has been on the floor, they have been outscored in only seven of the games. One thing that stands out is that four of those seven games have come in this playoff run. Houston has had the best success against the lineup and completely blew their doors off in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals this year and in Game 2 of the Conference Finals last season.
The lineup seems to be exposed against the Rockets. Instead of sending out lineups that could match Golden State shot for shot, Houston took a physical approach and used bigger bodies to disrupt the lineup’s offense, and muscle them to the paint when conducting their own offense.
The Rockets typically play with a heavy focus on isolation, but matching up against the Death Lineup wasn’t hard for them, and they closed out Game 4 on a 14-8 run.
In the Warriors’ Game 5 loss against the Clippers in the first round, the Clippers outscored Golden State by eight points in the nine minutes the Death Lineup took the floor. The Warriors prevailed in the series, but one has to wonder how good this lineup can be against the Trailblazers in the conference finals or the Bucks or Raptors in the NBA Finals.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story
Yes, four of the Death Lineup’s seven worst games came in the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs. And yes, the Rockets seem to have figured out a way to slow down that particular lineup, but that fact isn’t all that shocking.
Houston and Golden State played 13 games combined during the 2018 and 2019 playoffs, so the Rockets have had more chances to expose the weaknesses of the Hampton Five group. Not only that, but there aren’t many teams in the league that have a nearly unguardable, MVP-caliber talent like James Harden on the roster. Considering the way Harden can light up the scoreboard, it’s not surprising the Warriors’ best lineup has some problems when it faces Houston.
What can we expect in the Western Conference finals?
Kevin Durant missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals against Portland. He could play later in the series, but the Warriors took the first two games without having the Hampton Five to rely upon.
The Warriors’ easy Game 1 win came through a lot of pick and roll plays. Portland doesn’t have defenders capable of slowing down all the moving pieces in the Warriors offense, and adding Durant, who is averaging 34 points per game this postseason, back into the fold won’t make things any easier for Portland.