If any team is going to beat the Warriors in the playoffs, they'll need to figure out how to contain their "Hamptons Five" lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.
The Warriors have had success with smaller lineups in the past. When they were down 2-1 against the Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr unleashed the "Death Lineup" by starting Iguodala over Andrew Bogut to give Golden State five players who could make plays off the dribble, shoot open 3-pointers and switch across the board on defense. Fueled by a Finals MVP performance from Iguodala, the adjustment helped the Warriors win three straight games to bring the franchise its first championship in 40 years.
The difference with their new "Death Lineup" is Durant. As valuable as Harrison Barnes was to the Warriors, Durant gives them someone who can manufacture his shot against any defender and anchor a defense in a way few non-centers can. His versatility makes them almost unstoppable on both ends of the court, as the Pelicans learned in the Western Conference Semifinals and the Rockets learned in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The combination of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant and Green shared the court for 54 minutes against the Pelicans in the second round. According to NBA.com, they scored at a rate of 127.5 points per 100 possessions on offense and held New Orleans to 86.6 points per 100 possessions on defense, giving them one of the highest net ratings (40.9) of lineups that played at least 15 minutes together. Much of their success came in Game 4, when they made their first start of the season together and outscored the Pelicans by a total of 26 points in only 18 minutes.
Something as simple as Curry running a pick-and-roll with Green at the top of the perimeter when they are surrounded by Thompson, Durant and Iguodala forces the defense to make a series of impossible decisions in a fraction of a second. It leads to situations like this, with Green getting an uncontested dunk when Anthony Davis chooses to stay with Durant on the weakside rather than help off of him to provide some resistance at the rim:
Had Davis rotated sooner, Green would've made a pass to a wide open Durant on the wing. Rajon Rondo stepping up wouldn't have made much of a difference, either - Green would've responded by dropping off a pass to Iguodala underneath the basket for a layup or dunk. It's those sorts of looks the "Hamptons Five" feast on, which explains their skyhigh assist percentage (72.0) and true shooting percentage (68.2).
It doesn't even matter that Iguodala and Green have obvious weaknesses in their game on offense, because they make up for their limitations in a number of ways. In addition to being two of the best playmakers in the league at their respective positions, Iguodala and Green are capable outside shooters and smart cutters. When the latter doesn't lead directly to layups for themselves, it usually sucks in the defense just enough to free one of Curry, Thompson and Durant for a scoring opportunity.
Iguodala and Green are also terrific defenders. With their length, plus Thompson and Durant, the "Hamptons Five" lineup has forced opponents into committing more turnovers (36) than assists (33) in these playoffs. The only Warrior teams can realistically target on defense is Curry, though Curry at least has the speed to keep James Harden and Chris Paul off the 3-point line and the IQ to funnel them towards help underneath the basket.
"If I was the opposite coach and saw Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, I'm most likely going to (go after) me - especially for a team that relies on iso situations like they do," Curry recently told USA Today. "Cleveland has done it for years. My whole goal is that if you want to abandon (your) normal offense to try to pick on me and put me in mismatch situations or whatever it is, then over the course of 48 (minutes), I'm going to get enough stops to figure it out."
The Rockets did have more success against Golden State's "Hamptons Five" lineup in Game 1 compared to the Pelicans in the previous series, but Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant and Green were the catalyst to the Warriors' success in the third quarter when they took control of the game. It served as yet another example of what makes them special. Teams can play them to a standstill for a quarter or two, but all they need to swing a game in their favor is a couple of minutes.
Unless the Rockets (or another team) can figure out how to weather that storm, the Warriors will continue to have the biggest cheat code in the NBA.