Column: Kevin Durant’s ruptured Achilles could signal the end of one of the great NBA lineups
Too fast. Too talented. Too selfless. Too smart. Too good.
Kevin Durant confirmed from a hospital bed across the country the news everyone had assumed: That video that showed the rubber band running up the back of his leg snapping in Game 5 was indeed a ruptured Achilles tendon. Surgery has already been performed. Recovery has already begun.
There’s no doubt we’ll see Kevin Durant on the basketball court again.
But while that torn tendon robbed us of a story that could’ve been more triumphant than Willis Reed in 1970, a legend greater than the even Michael Jordan’s “flu game” in 1997, it also could be the very end of the modern NBA’s most devastating lineup.
Some people called them the “Hamptons Five.” Others referred to it as the “Death Lineup.” Whatever you called it, when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Durant played together, you knew you were seeing a collection of players that would be impossible to replicate.
“I don’t know how you mimic that kind of talent,” Raptors center Marc Gasol said. “Talent isn’t something you can mimic, right? How do you mimic KD? Or Steph’s talent? You can’t mimic that. You can try to run the same actions, but the guys coming off the screens aren’t the same. It doesn’t matter. It’s not Xs and O’s.”
Born out of Steve Kerr’s first season with the Warriors, when the team would use Green as a small-ball center, the lineup (with Harrison Barnes, not Durant) outscored opposing teams by a comical 38.6 points per 100 possessions in the Warriors’ 73-win season — 14.2 more than any other non-Golden State lineup in the NBA that played at least 100 minutes together.
A year later, with Durant subbed in for Barnes, the lineup outscored teams by 23.3 points per 100 possessions (sixth-best in the league during the regular season), and after a dip during the regular season in 2017, the group tore through the postseason. In 129 minutes together, the Hamptons Death Five outscored teams by a combined 68 points — most in the playoffs. The second best-lineup, Houston’s starters, outscored teams by 49 points — and needed six more games and 75 more minutes to do so.
While the group stretched defenses to their limits, with three knockdown shooters paired with Green’s and Iguodala’s expert passing and playmaking, their biggest impact might have been on defense.
“Their impact on [the game], I think goes back a little bit to all the switching. They just pretty much switch everything,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “That really wasn’t that common, to be able to come out and just switch every time somebody set a ball screen or a down screen or the [dribble handoff] or whatever screen and just switch, switch, switch, switch, switch. Keep every player in front of you and not really have to ever put two on the ball, because they’re all pretty good defenders.
“So that’s the biggest impact it probably had on the game. I think a lot more teams do a lot more switching since they started doing that.”
This season, the group didn’t slow down on either end, once again leading all five-man lineups in overall efficiency and true shooting percentage, playing at the second-fastest pace, all while still being the Warriors’ top defensive grouping.
“When we’re healthy and we have all those five guys out there, the chemistry is solid because we don’t take over each other’s spots on the floor. We all bring something different to the table. We work off each other really well. There’s a trust factor and just a rhythm to it on both ends of the floor. I think we all just enjoy that pace that we can play with and the speed that we can show,” Curry said Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things that when you see those five guys out there, something good is about to happen. And really, you don’t know where it’s going to come from, too. That’s the best part about it. We all enjoy each other’s successes. Yeah, it’s a great lineup, obviously. I don’t know the lasting legacy or whatever.
“Hopefully there’s still more of that to come.”
But Durant won’t be on the court when the Warriors try to extend the NBA Finals. And he’ll almost certainly opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer, the injury and some of the surrounding controversy around who to blame adding to speculation that he’s out the door already in some ways.
In the aftermath of Durant’s injury, which came minutes into his return from a monthlong calf strain, the Warriors have come under fire for letting Durant back on the court.
“This last month was a cumulative collaborative effort in his rehabilitation. And that collaboration included Kevin and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, our medical staff, his own outside second-opinion doctor, outside of our organization. Kevin checked all the boxes, and he was cleared to play by everybody involved,” Kerr said. “Now, would we go back and do it over again? Damn right. But that’s easy to say after the results. When we gathered all the information, our feeling was the worst thing that could happen would be a reinjure of the calf.
“That was the advice and the information that we had. At that point, once Kevin was cleared to play, he was comfortable with that, we were comfortable with that. So the Achilles came as a complete shock.”
And even if he does come back to the Warriors, Thompson is a free agent this summer too. Next summer, so are Green and Iguodala.
The safe bet is we’ve seen the last of it, Kerr’s ultimate strategic weapon, the Warriors’ best five on the court playing beautiful basketball together.
The Warriors might try to manipulate rotations to try to find ways to still get Green minutes at center, though they haven’t found the right formula for that yet in these NBA Finals without Durant on the court.
With everything at stake Thursday in Game 6, including a finale for Oracle Arena and the fans in Oakland, the Warriors can’t waste any energy longing for nostalgia — whether it’s a lineup or a building.
“You really don’t think about it too much. We have been in this thing for five years. We really haven’t been able to sit back and just reflect on everything,” Iguodala said. “Everything has kind of been hectic. Kind of been like a roller coaster — a circus more than a roller coaster. We just focus on trying to get the job done and get the win.”
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