You could certainly say all of that here Sunday afternoon at the Smoothie King Center. Durant rumbled for 38 points, nine rebounds and five assists to outduel Anthony Davis (who needed 22 shots to record 26 points) and staked Golden State — with the help of unmistakably fast starts in both halves and stout team defense — to a 3-1 series lead.
“I told you right from the start, you’re not going to beat them if you’re not going to score 115 points,” said Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry, who brought up how “locked in” Durant looked defensively before even touching his devastating shot-making.
Warriors players and coaches, meanwhile, were almost universally unaware that the unit Kerr so often turns to when it comes to closing games had never actually started one together. But the Pelicans, after inflicting one rout upon the defending champions Friday night, had Golden State spooked. To counter New Orleans’ fast pace and copious amounts of Davis, Kerr saw little alternative than to go smaller and start with his best lineup.
Kerr has always preferred to save the group for crunchtime as opposed to first quarters — even in the days when it was Harrison Barnes in Durant’s place. Concerns about the physical demands of playing so small — both on Green as a 6-foot-7 center and on Iguodala at age 34 — have long been his primary worries. But Sunday’s gambit came with the added risk that failure could have dented the Warriors’ confidence in what has been a longstanding strategical cure-all.
To Kerr’s relief, going away from the vast array of big men Golden State has stockpiled for this playoff run and starting Iguodala instead inspired a noticeable zip and sharpness at the start of the first and third quarters. Golden State zoomed to a 20-8 edge before Iguodala took his first rest. They hiked the lead to 18 points at the first-half peak and ultimately snuffed out the Pelicans’ spirit with a dominant response after New Orleans had clawed to within 4 points shortly before intermission.
Durant was the biggest beneficiary of the Warriors’ increased focus and force, but Green (nine rebounds, nine assists and four steals) and Iguodala (29 turnover-free minutes and highly effective defense against the Pelicans’ Nikola Mirotic) were huge difference-makers, too.
“They do all the utility stuff,” Durant said.
Speaking specifically about Iguodala and how much he keeps the Warriors organized — at both ends — Kerr resurrected his pet praise for the veteran swingman by saying: “He reminds me a lot of Scottie Pippen.”
Ever the contrarian, Iguodala welcomed the lineup change and flattering comparison only to a degree. He was more interested in advancing the idea that the 19-point humbling that the Warriors endured in Game 3 actually might have benefited them, with Curry still working his way back from the knee sprain that sidelined him from March 24 until Game 2 of this series.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time and people can say, ‘How do you get bored of winning?’” Iguodala said. “But with everything that comes with it, it can be a mental drain. So sometimes it’s good for us to lose.
“It was good for us to kind of get punched in the mouth and see how we responded.”
The numerical response: Kerr kept his Game 4 starters on the floor for 18 minutes, during which the group posted a cumulative plus/minus of +26.
“Any time we’ve been in danger over the years, we’ve gone to this group,” Kerr said at the postgame podium. “You’re on the road, you’re threatened, you put your five best players out there.”
Yet Kerr insisted after his victorious news conference, in a hallway outside the visitors’ locker room, that he would continue to be judicious with how much he leans on his most feared five-man combination — for its own good.
“You can’t play that way the whole season,” Kerr said. “You’ll blow those guys out — and I mean blow them out physically.”
For long stretches of the season, of course, injuries (especially Curry’s) didn’t even make it an option to trot out Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Durant/Green as much as the Warriors would have liked. Expect to see more and more of that alignment as the prospect of a third championship in four seasons dribbles closer into view for Golden State.
“We’re always going to get to that lineup eventually,” Kerr said as he headed for the team bus.
Some of the principles even embrace the “Hamptons Five” concept coined by the longtime Bay Area columnist Tim Kawakami.
“Hell yeah,” Green said. “That’s where it all started.”