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The “Death Lineup” in the Western Conference Finals May Surprise You

The “Death Lineup” in the Western Conference Finals May Surprise You

All year we’ve heard about the so-called “Death Lineup” that the Warriors have.

Because of the versatility across the Warriors roster, they’ve been able to downsize at times to great success. During the regular season, a Warriors lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green had a net rating of +44.4 per 100 possessions in 173 minutes together. It was the Warriors’ third-most used regular season lineup (all numbers per www.basketball-reference.com).

(Net Rating takes the points scored by that lineup, subtracts the points scored by the opponent against that lineup, and extrapolates it out over 100 possessions. It gives you a hypothetical idea of how a lineup might look if it played an entire game.)

The Thunder had productive lineups as well, but certainly not to that extent. The usual starting five of Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams had a net rating of +18.1 in 815 minutes together. The Thunder lineup with the highest net rating, albeit in only 38 minutes, was a +41.0 unit of Westbrook, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, Durant and Ibaka. That lineup has some interesting similarities to the Warriors’ “Death Lineup”.

In the postseason, however, the Thunder may have stumbled into a Death Lineup of their own.

The traditional Thunder starting five is still productive in the post season, registering a +9.6 Net Rating in 220 minutes. But a lineup that Billy Donovan has unleashed against the Warriors has shown a lot of promise. Although used for only 16 minutes thus far, a “small” lineup of Westbrook, Waiters, Roberson, Durant and Ibaka is +59.1.

The kicker? That same lineup logged 46 minutes together in the regular season and was a -12.7.

And that Warriors “Death Lineup” that caused so many boots to quake? In 34 postseason minutes together, that lineup is a -1.1.

Context matters. This Thunder playoff team is playing at a different level than they did in the regular season. Curry missed six playoff games due to a sprained MCL and still may not be 100% healthy. But still, the contrast in the numbers is remarkable, and just may be a key to the Thunder winning this series.

 

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