NEW ORLEANS -- Well, he finally did it.
After dispatching the Golden State Warriors’ small-ball “Death” lineup at times over the past four seasons, coach Steve Kerr provided the world with a glimpse of what his vaunted “Hamptons Five” lineup could do from the start of a game.
For all of the games Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala have finished together, never before had they played as a starting five.
In this series against the New Orleans Pelicans, Kerr had restrained himself until now. But with the "Hamptons Five" playing in Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal, the Warriors crushed the spirit of the Pelicans early in a 118-82 drubbing that gives Golden State a 3-1 series lead.
Game 5 is Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, where Kerr promised to give Warriors fans a chance to see what the rest of us witnessed at Smoothie King Center.
The devastating combination of speed, athleticism, playmaking and scoring ability the "Hamptons Five" used simply overwhelmed the Pelicans. The Warriors had a 17-4 lead before the crowd could catch its collective breath and the outcome was never in doubt from there.
Durant made absolutely sure of it. He knocked down two jumpers in the first 90 seconds and the tone was set. To Kerr, it was not the lineup itself that changed the game, but rather the force with which the new lineup started Game 4.
“[Durant] was attacking tonight right from the beginning,” Kerr said. “And he was brilliant. There’s not much you can do because he’s so tall and long and he’s going to be able to get his shot off over you. But I just thought he found better spots on the floor with his aggression and created easier shots for himself.
“... The other night we were standing around. Tonight, after they made their first stand on the defensive possession, we just kept playing. And that’s kind of who we are, multiple playmakers, move the ball and let the next guy make a play and don’t force anything. ... It just set a great tone.”
The Warriors indeed got punched in the mouth in Game 3 Friday night and Durant made it his mission to ensure it didn’t happen again. The Warriors led by 18 in the first quarter, by 23 after the third and down the stretch, the "Hamptons Five" got a long rest.
Durant sensed the mood around his team at practice on Saturday. He went to work on his game, examining everything he would need to do to outplay Pelicans’ superstar Anthony Davis.
It’s not about the lineup. ... It’s about how hard guys play and how focused they are."
Their Game 4 performances were an intriguing study of a player who has thrived on a critical playoff stage time and again ... and one who is learning what it takes to make that leap.
Durant, the reigning Finals MVP, was ruthlessly efficient, finished with a game-high 38 points (on 15-for-27 shooting), nine rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in just 36 minutes. He took advantage of Pelicans defensive ace Jrue Holiday (who dwarfs him by six inches) and anyone else the Pelicans sent his way.
Davis, in his eighth career playoff game, scored 26 points on 8-for-22 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds. But he also had six turnovers and spent long stretches without so much as calling for the ball as the Warriors picked the Pelicans apart.
The gulf between Davis and Durant was striking, even after the game. That's when a hoodie-wearing Durant showed up to the postgame news conference by himself, while Davis did not speak to reporters in the hallway outside of his locker room.
If you’re going to take on the pressure and responsibility that comes with being “the man,” you have to do it during the good times and the bad. And you have to light that fire for your team from the opening tip, the way Durant did.
“KD … he was just KD,” Iguodala said when asked what led to the Warriors’ explosive start. “He got to his spots, got to his shots. It kind of reminded me of MJ (Michael Jordan), and I don’t like to make that comparison, but he got to his spots and there was nothing you could do about it.
"And when you see that look in his face it carries over to the rest of the guys and then you take that to the defensive end and you get stops, you know it’s right … the mentality is there.”
The Warriors have always understood how dangerous their small lineup can be, but it doesn’t suit them all the time. Sometimes, Kerr’s hands are tied based on matchups.
Once the Warriors got rocked in Game 3, Kerr knew exactly what his counter move would be.
“Anytime we’ve been in any danger over the years, we’ve sort of gone to this lineup," Kerr said. "Whether it’s as [the] starting group or extra minutes, and obviously the lineup worked or whatever, but it’s not about the lineup. It’s really not. It’s about how hard guys play and how focused they are. The effort on both ends tonight was night and day from Game 3, and I thought our guys were just dialed in.”
“My discussions with Steph and KD were more strategic. They already know. They’re superstars. Stars have to be stars in the playoffs. Steph and KD don’t need to be told that. But my job as a coach is to try to help them strategically, so I talked to both of them about how I thought they could attack and get better shots. And we just did a much better job executing offensively.”
Obviously, it helps to have five players as versatile and skilled as the “Hamptons Five," a moniker given to that five-man group after the other four ramped up their recruiting of Durant during a visit to the Hamptons in the summer of 2016.
Yet Kerr didn’t want to acknowledge the nickname. But you can call it whatever you want when a player like Durant is added to a potent championship mix.
“Now that’s the group that has two banners hanging in the rafters,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said as he entered his postgame news conference.
It’s the group that needed every bit of what Durant provided in The Finals last year, when he outshined Cleveland’s LeBron James. That slender assassin from that series was back at it Sunday against the Pelicans.
“I’m just my best when I’m free and having fun out there and forceful, I think that was the thing," Durant said. "To play with force no matter if I miss shots or not, just try to keep shooting, keep being aggressive, and you know I just tried to continue to tell myself that over the last day-and-a-half. Today we went out there and knocked down some shots.”
The same mentality will be required in Tuesday's Game 5. Close-out games require the best from any team, even one with the recent NBA title history the Warriors boast.
Durant and the rest of the "Hamptons Five" know what’s on the horizon. They have the muscle memory from their 2017 Finals journey, with a group so devastating that, when playing at its best, can take apart any foe in the NBA.
“Yeah, just the experience. Guys have been there before. Just an IQ for the game,”Durant said of the "Hampton Five" lineup. "You know, you got most of the guys that can penetrate and make plays. It’s good for scorers like Klay, Steph and myself. You know Andre and Draymond do all the utilities stuff like driving to the rim, getting stops, getting rebounds, and you know they were knocking down shots when they got the opportunity to shoot ‘em. I think we played off each other well.”
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