OAKLAND — Before Tuesday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was asked about once again going up against the so-called Hamptons Five lineup.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr had started that lineup — consisting of Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant — in Game 4, and the Warriors sprinted out to a 17-4 lead. He will start the same lineup in Game 5.
“What does that mean, first of all?” said Gentry, who served as associate head coach for Golden State under Kerr during the 2014-15 season. When Gentry was told about how the name came about — in July of 2016, as the Warriors courted Durant, team officials, along with Curry, Green, Thompson and Iguodala, paid him a visit as he vacationed in the Hamptons — he chuckled.
“You can call them any kind of five; they’re really good,” Gentry said. “You can call them the Jackson Five.”
In the playoffs, the lineup has an average +10.3 plus/minus rating per game. They’re averaging nearly three points per minute on the court together — almost half a point more than the next-most-productive lineup. Whatever you want to call that group — the Hamptons Five or the Death Lineup — it’s been the most effective lineup for the best team in the NBA.
Originally, the Death Lineup featured Harrison Barnes instead of Durant, and last season, it took some time for the Durant edition of the lineup to gel. It didn’t get much run this season because of the absence of Curry, who missed 31 games with various injuries. In the playoffs, though, it’s found its groove, with Durant going off for 38 points in Game 4.
“Kevin changes the entire game for us with his defense, when he’s engaged and locked in,” Kerr said. “The very first possession of the game the other night, he denied the wing and blew up the play that the Pelicans were going to run, and it set a good tone, just like his shot at the other end to start the game set a tone. Kevin has a different gear he can get to defensively, and when he gets there, he’s devastating.”
The beauty of the lineup is the fact that it is as effective defensively as it is offensively. The small ball look allows the Warriors to switch freely and neutralize smaller ball handlers and big men alike.
“I haven’t played this much small ball since middle school,” Thompson said.
It’s been effective, particularly against the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic, who was locked down by Iguodala in Game 4.
“He’s probably a future Hall of Famer, Finals MVP, All-Star, Olympian,” Kerr said of Iguodala, arguably the least-heralded of the group, on the down side of his career. “Really not anything else you can do in this sport. Andre is a great player, but I think what’s happened over the last few years is that he’s almost taken on a Manu Ginobli role for us, where he understood he was at the point of his career where … coming off the bench was important for us. He solidifies our second unit, and is kind of a Swiss Army knife for us.”
Asked which starting lineup he’d deem the best in his playing and coaching career earlier this week, Kerr said he’d compare the lineup to the Chicago Bulls’ starting five of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Tony Kucoc, Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper.
“He would know best,” Curry said. “He was around that team. I always kind of shy away from the historical questions, because it’s hard for me to really kind of remove myself from the moment.”
Asked who would be Michael Jackson in the Jackson Five conceit, Gentry said, “I think we know who Michael is,” he said, ostensibly meaning Curry. “They’ve got two Michaels. They’ve got two and a half Michaels.”
“They’ve got so much versatility with what they can do,” Gentry said. “The guys they have out there, all of them are multiple-position players. Klay can be a two, three, whatever you want him to be. Steph, same thing. Draymond, as I said to you guys time and time again, he can basically play all the positions on the floor. That’s what makes it really difficult to play against them.”