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Warriors take commanding 3-1 series lead behind Death Lineup in New Orleans

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Kevin Durant, seen here on March 30, 2018, scored 29 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Houston. (Stan Olszewski/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Steve Kerr has sent out three different starting lineups in the first four games of the Western Conference semifinals.

On Sunday, with the Golden State Warriors poised to secure a 3-1 advantage over the New Orleans Pelicans, the head coach opted to start his famed Death Lineup for the for the first time not just this postseason, but the first time ever.

The quintet of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green didn’t disappoint. In the wire-to-wire 118-92 win, Green was +28, Durant and Thompson were each +23 and Curry and Iguodala were both +21.

The Warriors opened up a 17-4 lead less than midway through the first quarter when Curry buried an unattended 3-pointer in the corner, right in front of a delighted Golden State bench which rose to its feet in celebration before the Splash Brother even released.

Curry dropped 23 points in 32 minutes, but the Game 4 rout was all about the Durant show.

Last year’s Finals MVP produced one of the most memorable performances of his Warrior tenure, scoring at-will on his way to a game-high 38 points. Durant scored 20 of his postseason-high 38 in the first half, marking the 38th time during the playoffs that he’s scored 20-plus points in a half. It was also his third 30-point game of the postseason.

With the contest spirling into a blowout late, Durant exacted the majority of his damage in the opening three quarters. Heading into the fourth, Durant had scored 33 points in 32 minutes. The Pelicans had no answers for the nine-time All-Star. Neither did Durant.

Asked how he’d guard himself during the postgame interview on ESPN, Durant was stumped.

“I don’t know,” Durant said. “That’s a good question.”

Propelled by Durant, the Death Lineup won the day with brilliant starts to the first and third quarters. The Warriors outscored their hosts by 15 in the opening quarter, then, as is their habit, produced a +14 third period.

It was during the second stanza that the Warriors briefly came unglued.

With 1:10 left on the clock, Green slowly walked back to the bench where he was greeted by Kerr, who was smiling sarcastically. Green had just drawn his first technical of the postseason for protesting after Anthony Davis had bowled him over with no foul called. With the technical free throw, the once 18-point lead had shrunk to four, 55-51. The Warriors, most notably Green, were seething. To that point, the Pelicans had shot 19 free throws, making 18. The Warriors had connected on four of five.

Entering the afternoon, the free-throw ratio in the series had been titled heavily in the favor of the Warriors who had outshot the Pelicans 85-32 at the line.

The flashpoint proved to be nothing more than blip for Green, who continues his masterclass postseason. After recording eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists, Green is nearly averaging a triple double — 12.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg and 9.0 apg — through nine contests.

Kerr emptied his bench in the comfortable win over the Pelicans, but the sub of the day was Quinn Cook, who had seen just five minutes of garbage-time run in Friday night’s Game 3 loss. Cook supplied eight points — hitting four of his first five shots — in his opening nine minutes of action. The backup guard ended up with 12 points in his 17 minutes.

The Warriors now return to the Bay Area where they’ll have a chance to close out the Pelicans on Tuesday night, tipping off at 7:30 p.m. at Oracle Arena.

kbuscheck@sfexaminer.com

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