the Golden State Warriors are an avalanche when they get rolling, and they are rolling.
Keep the ball moving. Steal possessions and do not give them back. Play with pace. Force decisions until someone chooses wrong. Threes fail. Lanes open. Opponents fracture. The more momentum, the harder to stop. Meet the avalanche’s energy or cower in fear, whether you are rooting for destruction or in its path.
This is the flow the Golden State Warriors found with their Death Lineup in the 2015 NBA Finals, when they won their first championship. It is what fed their record-setting 73 regular-season wins during the 2015-16 season, what failed them in the 2016 Finals and what led them to Kevin Durantwho perfected the deluge.
The Warriors have found that flow again, only with third-year late-first-round draft pick jordan poole in place of a legend and Andrew Wiggins doing his best Andrew Iguodala impersonation. Call it the Death Poole Lineup or whatever you want, the Warriors are destroying the Denver Nuggets with it, and the title is back in play.
As Denver’s Monte Morris said, “They’re out there laughing, dancing around. It’s just embarrassing.”
The five-man unit of Death Lineup holdovers Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, along with Poole and Wiggins, played six minutes and 23 seconds of near-perfect basketball in Game 2 of their first-round series on Monday night. They scored 27 points on 11-for-12 shooting, assisting on 10 of those makes, flipping an eight-point deficit before halftime and punctuating a second straight blowout victory.
It was Curry’s miss on a contested sidestep 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter that reminded him the past two injury-plagued seasons are behind his Warriors. No longer does he have to carry them alone.
“I was thinking about that for a long time, just because the floor, the space, there were a lot of driving angles, even if you were not the one going to be finishing,” he told reporters following his 34-point effort in 23 minutes off the bench. “That’s when the reactions from the defense start, and we have so many shooters and playmakers out there. You kind of have to make them pay. That’s where all the flow starts to happen and all the good open shots — we love to play that way, and it’s demoralizing for a defense.”
The Warriors did not ask Poole to mirror Curry, because who would be so brash to believe it is possible to mold a respectable replica of a singular talent? Poole would be so brash. He witnessed how the threat of Curry’s shooting and his constant movement of him bend the defense, whether or not he possesses the ball, and how he lets defenders dictate decisions to fire at will, attack the basket, facilitate or cut and keep moving.
Poole has studied what makes Curry great, incorporated it into his practice and applied it on the biggest stage, fusing it with his own improvisational style, like how Miles Davis learned at the hand of Charlie Parker and made jazz music his own. Only Wilt Chamberlain scored more points than Poole’s 59 in his first two playoff games for the Warriors. As encouraging as Poole’s development has been, no one saw Este coming.
“He’s been watching Steph a lot, and he’s doing his best impression,” Green said, “and it is incredible.”
“For him to follow up that Game 1, where he was great, with another game like this, some of the flurries out there from him tonight reminded me of his teammate who came off the bench a little bit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr added of Poole’s kinship with Curry on Monday. “It’s pretty remarkable to see the similarities now with both the on- and off-ball stuff. Jordan has had a pretty good apprenticeship learning from Steph.”
Trap Curry on one side, and Poole is on the other. In between is Green, arguably the game’s most brilliant facilitator from the pocket. Defensive game plans only become theories when Thompson is a tertiary option, because you cannot stop the avalanche. You can try to ride it, the way the Chase Center crowd does, like a skier keeping apace on the crest of chaos, or you can be consumed by it. At least basketball has timeouts.
“It’s a passer’s paradise for me,” said Green.
“You have three players that can get it on their own, and they do such a great job of passing, cutting, moving and making plays for each other,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who knew this lineup was coming and still cannot come up with an answer. “I learned back in the day, CYO basketball, St. Agnes: The most dangerous guy on the floor is the guy who just passed the ball, and Steph Curry is the embodiment of that, and he’s been doing it for years. He gives the ball up, you relax, and he’s flying off another screen, and he makes you pay. And Jordan Poole, his understudy, has paid attention, done his homework and is playing the same way. Those three on the floor with a Wiggins and a Draymond Green is very, very effective.”
Question marks for the Death Poole Lineup lie in defense and rebounding, especially since the 6-foot-4 Poole has essentially replaced Durant and Harrison Barnes from previous editions. Reigning (and likely repeat) MVP Nikola Jokic should pose problems for a quintet that counts Wiggins as its tallest member.
Enter Green, whom Kerr calls “one of the most unique, powerful and impactful players I’ve ever seen.” (High praise from the NBA’s version of Forrest Gump, an unlikely influencer of dynasty after dynasty for 30 years.) Green at 6-6 is defending the 7-foot Jokic like nobody could during the regular season, holding him to 32% shooting and at 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. And Wiggins is crashing the boards at twice his career rate.
“Technically, I guess we are undersized, but you have to bring a defensive force and effort and energy, and then you can just turn it into an advantage on the other end of the floor,” Curry told reporters on Saturday. “Seeing [Poole] be able to make plays in the pick-and-roll with me and Klay spaced, and Draymond setting and [Wiggins] slashing, it checks a lot of boxes on the list of like what you would want for a potent offensive lineup. If we can do the job defensively, it puts us in a good position to make teams pay on the other end.”
It does not hurt that the Nuggets are missing two vital players. There should be concern about how this lineup fares against the healthiest versions of the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. That we must seriously entertain them in that conversation is a testament to how many breaks have gone their way in recent weeks. We entered the playoffs with questions about the health of Curry, Green and Thompson, the playoff readiness of Golden State’s supporting cast, and the blending of both in a lineup that had played exactly zero minutes together before the second quarter of Game 1 against Denver.
The Warriors’ dynasty has been at its best when closing lineups are somehow playing in total control at breakneck speed, the ball finding everyone in motion. Nobody is passing the ball more than Golden State in these playoffs, and the Death Poole Lineup is playing at a pace that would have led the league this season.
Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins and Green are +29 in 11 minutes together through two playoff games, scoring 204.3 points per 100 possessions to Denver’s 75 — the equivalent of your town’s varsity basketball program trouncing its elementary school campers. They have 14 assists against zero turnovers on 17 made baskets and a true shooting percentage of 95.4%. This is unsustainable, obviously, but even a fall from basketball heaven lands them among the peaks of the Golden State dynasty’s most effective lineups.
Death Lineup 1.0: Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green
2015 NBA Finals: +21.3 net rating (70 MIN), 97.07 pace, 55.3 TS%, 67.9 AST% (2.77 AST/TO)
2015-16 regular season: +40.2 net rating (172 MIN), 110.31 pace, 75 TS%, 65.9 AST% (2.22 AST/TO)
Death Lineup 2.0: Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant and Green
2016-17 regular season: +22.4 net rating (224 MIN), 107.49 pace, 65.4 TS%, 70.5 AST% (2.25 AST/TO)
2017-18 playoffs: +23.4 net rating (129 MIN), 106.44 pace, 66.6 TS%, 65.4 AST% (2.36 AST/TO)
Death Lineup 3.0: Curry, Thompson, Poole, Wiggins and Green
2022 playoffs: +129.3 net rating (11 MIN), 103.28 pace, 95.4 TS%, 58.8 AST% (14:0 AST/TO)
What’s most frightening is that the Warriors have a wave of contributors they can incorporate into other versions of their small-ball lineups. Iguodala is still there. Otto Porter Jr. is another range wing. Nemanja Bjelica can steal some center minutes. Jonathan Kuminga is laying in wait. All lineups featuring Curry, Thompson and Poole are now +116 in 144 minutes — a large enough sample size to draw a conclusion.
The Warriors are a party with Poole, and they are rolling again. Look out league. The avalanche is coming.
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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach