The Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors ravaged the Western Conference throughout the regular season, so it’s no surprise they’ll square off in the conference finals, the best offensive matchup in modern NBA history. Behind the two-headed hydra of James Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets decimated the elite defense of the Utah Jazz in the conference semifinals. With Stephen Curry back in the fold, Golden State flew past the New Orleans Pelicans with relative ease.
Much of the conference finals, then, can be distilled to a single question: Can the Houston Rockets mitigate the effectiveness of the “Hamptons Five” lineup?
Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green make up the rebranded small-ball “Death Lineup” of yesteryear. It features two former MVPs, one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, a Hall of Fame glue guy and a former defensive player of the year. Without a prototypical center on the court, the five-man group compensates with seamless switching and length on the defensive end, and a fly-out offensive grouping that scores with abandon. Each of the five players can create for each other and drill shots along the perimeter — three of the five will go down as some of the best shooters in league history.
As one could surmise, replacing Harrison Barnes with Durant has brought this lineup to a different level. This year’s iteration in the playoffs is far superior on both the offensive and defensive ends than the “Death Lineup” ever was. In 54 minutes this postseason, the “Hamptons Five” has an offensive and defensive rating exceeding the greatest single-season marks ever produced. Those marks are produced in a petri dish, sure, but the lineup has wrought chaos across the NBA landscape, with the Warriors beating opponents by 40.9 points per 100 possessions when it’s employed. What’s more, Houston hasn’t faced it this season.
To understand the reputation of the lineup is to recognize how fundamental it is to the team’s success. Like a jet putting on the afterburners, it incinerates anything nearby into dust. It’s the ultimate trump card. Although Coach Steve Kerr traditionally uses it to pull away in the second half, against New Orleans he sent it out to start the final two games of the series. Leave it to Golden State to trot out a never-before-seen starting lineup in the second round of the postseason — and promptly smash the opposition with it.
However, there’s reason to believe the Rockets can effectively counter it. The “Hamptons Five” lineup counts on turnovers to spark offensive opportunities, but no team is taking better care of the ball in the playoffs than Houston. And having added Luc Mbah a Moute, P.J. Tucker and Paul in the offseason, the Rockets are exceptionally well designed to take away jump shots and protect the wing — hallmarks of Golden State’s offense — ranking seventh in the NBA in points allowed per possession on jump shots and second in points allowed per possession on jump shots taken off the dribble.
That defense gets even stronger late in the shot clock: When it drips to under four seconds, Houston is one of the four best teams in the league at limiting scoring efficiency, according to data provided by Synergy Sports. Largely because of those key offseason additions, Houston’s starters are forcing turnovers on a league-best 21.3 percent of opponent possessions this postseason. The Rockets will have plenty of opportunities to improve upon that number; no team this postseason is passing more than the Warriors, allowing opportunities for deflections and transition baskets.
By limiting Golden State’s transition offense, forcing the action into the half court and continuing to generate high-efficiency offense on the other end of the floor, D’Antoni will have this team humming into the NBA Finals.