OAKLAND — When the Golden State Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins this summer, the prevailing cry on NBA social media was that the two-time defending champions — winners of three titles in four years — had destroyed the NBA. What point was there to play all 82, when, with five All-Stars, the Warriors were a sure bet to win the NBA Finals anyway?
While the addition of Cousins gave Golden State something it had not had before — a true, elite center — they had already broken the league before, when they signed Kevin Durant, and sometimes, the crowd just wants to hear the classics.
On Saturday, the Hamptons Five, the lineup that came out of Durant’s recruitment three summers ago, a lineup that had always given fits to the Los Angeles Clippers — Golden State’s first-round Western Conference playoff opponent — gave the Warriors exactly what they needed, when they needed it, in a 121-104 win.
The so-called Death Lineup (or Hamptons Five) of Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green has been Golden State’s third-most-prolific unit on the floor this season, with 178 regular-season minutes together across 38 games this season. The offensive rating of that group — 124.1 — is the Warriors’ best. It’s second among NBA lineups with at least 80 minutes together this season.
“It’s our best lineup, somebody told me today, and it’s the best five-man lineup in the league, from a numbers standpoint,” said head coach Steve Kerr.
From 6:37 in the second quarter until Curry was taken out with 37.3 seconds to go before halftime, the Death Lineup was in the game for six minutes, and outscored the Clippers 26-12. Over those six minutes they were on the floor, the Hamptons Five was 7-for-9 from the field with seven rebounds, and held Los Angeles to 4-of-10 shooting and five rebounds.
“The end of that half, that swing was huge,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
During the regular season, Kerr used a lineup featuring Cousins, Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green more often (268 minutes in 21 games), in order to integrate Cousins into the flow of the system. Last season, Golden State actually used the Hamptons Five lineup less than this season (127 minutes, 28 regular-season games), but a significant variable was that Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were injured for stretches of the season.
Going back to a season where all five were relatively healthy for the entire campaign, Kerr used the lineup in 46 games and 224 minutes in 2016-17. This season, relative to 2016-17, Kerr has used that lineup late in games, and sparingly. That won’t be the case in the postseason.
“That’s our best lineup, so in the playoffs, we’ll play that lineup more often than we would in the regular season,” Kerr said. “We’re going to go to it a little earlier.”
Another reason to go to it earlier and more frequently: Cousins doesn’t have to be mollified. At this stage of the game, the objective isn’t to make all the parts work cohesively; all the parts have been together long enough, and now, it’s time for them to be used in the most efficient way. On Saturday, in his first career playoff game, Cousins wasn’t exactly efficient, which is something Kerr expected.
“It was important for him to get his feet wet and feel the playoffs, feel the energy, and I have no doubt he’ll come back and play a lot better in Game 2,” Kerr said.
Early on, Cousins — playing in his first ever playoff game — started off hot, going 2-of-3 from the field with a rebound, an assist and a steal in the first quarter. He hit a wide-open three when the rest of the Los Angeles defense collapsed, trying to sell out to stop Durant. Then, he found Draymond Green cutting on the baseline when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander flashed out to the perimeter to try and disrupt a three by the former Sacramento King All-Star. Green hit a two-handed dunk, and both he and Cousins flexed hard at their own bench.
But, as the second quarter wore on, Cousins became suddenly ineffective as he had trouble with Montrez Harrell. He went just 1-for-5 and had trouble finding a rhythm.
With a suddenly-ineffective Cousins sharing the floor with the second unit, the Clippers trimmed what was an 11-point deficit down to, head coach Steve Kerr opted to go with Andrew Bogut to spell the suddenly-cold Cousins.
When even that didn’t work, with the Clippers taking a one-point lead after trailing by as many as 11, he pulled out his trump card.
“Our second unit outplayed theirs,” Rivers said. “We just couldn’t hold it.”
The Hamptons Five entered with 6:37 left in the second quarter, with Golden State leading by just one, 43-42.
It paid off immediately, as Iguodala took an alley-top lob from Green high above the rim for a two-handed jam, giving the Warriors a 45-42 lead. The lineup went on a small 8-4 run, but Montrez Harrell — who was problematic no matter who guarded him — got the Clippers back even at 51-51 on an and-one play with 3:22 to go.
Then, Durant picked Gallinari’s pocket and pushed the ball ahead to Iguodala for another two-handed jam. Iguodala took a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander miss off the rim and drove towards center court before he was fouled by Gilgeous-Alexander. After Iguodala missed his pair of free throws, seeming to deflate the momentum, Curry nailed his third three of the half. He then hit a pair of free throws to MVP chants, waving three fingers to the Oracle crowd.
After Curry’s fourth three of the night, he hit a driving finger-roll lay-up. Going for a rebound off a missed shot by Lou Williams, Curry drew a foul, and hit one of two at the line. As he went for a rebound, a foul was called on Danillo Gallinari, after which Gallinari turned to the referee to ask where the foul was. He was immediatly assessed a technical, throwing Los Angeles into a tailspin.
“I thought Curry got fouled, but I know Lou got fouled, too, and that’s what started the whole thing,” Rivers said.
Behind the situation, Durant signaled to the crowd — and to his own bench — to get up. They obliged with MVP chants. Rivers was livid, and later cited his frustration that he perceived the Warriors complaining to the referees as going unpunished.
“They spurted on us,” Rivers said. “Can’t happen. I did think we got some tough calls down that stretch. I wasn’t even upset at the missed calls. I was really upset at Gal’s tech. It really bothered me, because all Gal said was ‘Where was the foul?’ Without me saying any names, if one of our guys is going to get a tech for saying that, after what I witnessed in the first half, from at least two of their guys, that was disgusting.
“Gal, who rarely gets a tech, didn’t swear, didn’t say anything. To get a tech in a playoff game, for saying ‘What foul?’ after I saw a couple guys on the other team cussing, swearing, pointing, yelling, and nothing, it’s just not right. We have to be consistent. My tech, by the way, and you can read my lips, I said, ‘All I want is consistency.’ That was what I got a tech for at halftime.”
Curry hit his tech free throw, and Durant, fouled on a put-back attempt, hit another two, putting the Warriors firmly in control headed into the break, up 69-56, finishing the half on an 18-5 run.
“They outplayed us, they deserved to win,” Rivers said. “We made too many mistakes. We can’t lose our composure.”