All series long, the NBA world waited for the Golden State Warriors to turn to their greatest weapon, and finally, in the championship-clinching Game 5, they turned to it.
The Warriors’ “death lineup” is perhaps the most potent five-man unit in the NBA. Featuring Draymond Green at center, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and now, Kevin Durant, the lineup spreads the floor to impossible limits, with five players capable of handling the ball, passing, attacking the basket, and switching on defence. Nobody in the NBA has proven to have an answer to it.
Yet Warriors coach Steve Kerr has been shy about using it. Prior to Game 5, the Warriors had only played the death lineup for 17 total minutes in the Finals. And prior to the Finals, Kerr and interim head coach Mike Brown had only used it for 32 total minutes in the playoffs.
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe suggested, the Warriors may have some concerns over how the unit can rebound and whether it drains the 6-foot-6 Green of too much energy. Perhaps they also are cautious of giving opponents too much exposure to it, using it as an ace in their collective sleeves to bust out at the right moment.
Game 5 was the right moment. The unit played 16 minutes together, outscoring the Cavs by three points in that stretch. Even more telling, the unit was on pace to outscore the Cavs by 18 points over 100 possessions. For the series, the death lineup scored over 142 points per 100 possessions and gave up just 96 points per 100 possessions, giving them a net rating of 45.7. In short: if the Warriors had turned to it for longer stretches of times, it would have annihilated the Cavs.
The Warriors turned to the death lineup to close Game 5, and its effects were apparent. Watch the Cavs pay so much attention to Klay Thompson coming off a screen toward the corner that they give Kevin Durant a wide open dunk.
Green is the engine to this lineup. His versatility is impossible to match. Often, the Warriors will run a pick-and-roll with Curry and Green and spread the floor with shooters. When defences trap Curry, he hits Green rolling downhill. From there, defences can pick their poison: leave Green uncontested at the rim, or collapse onto Green, leaving someone else open. It usually doesn’t work out well.
After the game, Kerr alluded to how both teams possess such great shooting and offensive talent that figuring out a defensive game plan can seem fruitless.
“The game has changed so much in terms of the spacing and the shooting, and you’re looking out there and you’re like, how are we going to stop anybody? I’m sure [Cavs coach] Ty [Lue] was saying the same thing.”
The Warriors possess this in spades, and the rest of the league, as Kerr mentioned, is wondering how to stop it.
Perhaps if the Warriors played the death lineup more, the NBA would adjust and solve the puzzle. For now, it remains the ultimate trump card, a lineup capable of swinging a game at seemingly any moment. The Warriors played it exactly when they needed to.
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