Celtics league-leading record on line vs. Warriors - who are the finishers?
It isn't called the Death Lineup for no reason. The Golden State Warriors started employing it in the 2014-15 season on their way to winning their first NBA Championship since 1975. That lineup, considered small at the time, featured Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Igoudala, and Draymond Green. Barnes was the tallest player at 6'8". The nearly-omnipotent Kevin Durant has replaced Harrison Barnes to make the game-finishing five even more dangerous.
The Celtics will go into Thursday's game against the Dubs with, at worst, a tie with the Houston Rockets, for best record in the NBA. The only way to ensure sole possession top spot will be to win both the Brooklyn game this evening and the bout with Golden State. Stephen Curry is recovering from a thigh contusion and is day-to-day. My guess is that he will be ready for Thursday. This game may be a super-early prelude to the NBA Finals. Golden State often finishes tight games with their Death Lineup, so who will Boston deploy to counter?
For the Celtics, it starts with the veterans, Al Horford and Kyrie Irving. The synergy between these two stars is visual art. The combined production from the duo is greater than expected if they played in separate lineups. In the past, I would not have placed Al into a group of finishers needing mobility, defensive focus and offensive versatility. I am a believer now. He can handle Draymond Green as well, or better, than any Celtic.
The Dubs don't need a lot of scoring from Draymond, but he does everything else, particularly rebounding and distributing. Al is totally capable of keeping him off the boards and shutting down passing lanes. Kyrie is a tough cover for any opponent, and his own defense has escalated tremendously. The Warriors will be seeing a new and improved version of Irving.
Marcus Smart needs to be a finisher against the Warriors. Just as opponents hate to guard Kyrie, they despise having Marcus guard them. He makes key plays at critical times in a game. And he can guard any of the Golden State finishers. Jaylen Brown has to be part of that group. He can guard any member of the Death Lineup on a one-on-one or on a switch. And his shots are now falling with regularity.
Jayson Tatum has proven that he belongs as a finisher. He has played like a veteran thus far, and he will keep improving. He has size and quickness, and he is a born scoring machine. That is the group for the Celtics. They move, defend, switch, score and rebound. The final factor will come down the the coaches, Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr, and how they manipulate their troops.
Golden State fields a veteran group of finishers. The average age is 29.2 years. The Celtics are young, and their five-some averages 23.6 years. One (Tatum) is a rookie, and two (Horford and Brown) are in their second year with Boston. One (Irving) is playing his first season in Boston. They are still integrating their talents into the team concept, but they are doing it at a Grand Prix pace. These two teams are very similar, and Boston may be close to grabbing the torch from the Warriors. The first test is this Thursday.
Fllow Tom at @TomLandHC
Stevens photo via Brian Banineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Kerr photo via Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport
Death Lineup photo via Rocky Widner/Getty Images