OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors' streak continues, this time with the defending champs blasting through the Chicago Bulls to the tune of 106-94 on Friday night. Golden State is now 14-0, and the NBA's best opening record ever (16-0) is in sight.
The Warriors want that record. They don't deny that anymore -- the pretense is gone. A championship is the ultimate goal, but other markers of history are too close to ignore. "It's a goal that's right here and now, and it's something we want to experience," Stephen Curry said after the game.
In the meantime, the league has a problem. It's a "small" problem, one that gets bigger every day. When the Warriors downsize to close out games, the games cease being competitive. That's why Golden State's Finals lineup of Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-Harrison Barnes-Draymond Green has earned nicknames including "Death Lineup," "Nuclear Lineup," "The Closer," and, courtesy of interim coach Luke Walton, "The Knockout Punch." If these monikers sound a bit violent, or extreme, consider this: In 54 minutes of play this season, the unit has outscored teams by 74 points.
After the game, Thompson laughed when asked how opponents are supposed to crack this unit. First he said, "Good luck." His final words before leaving the locker room were, "Too fast, too quick, too versatile."
Too fast, too quick, too versatile. That about sums it up. Defenses must reckon with containing Curry when he's surrounded by four 3-point shooters. They must contain the Curry-Green pick-and-roll now that Green has evolved into such a skilled playmaker. And finally, they must overcome an incredibly fast defense that approaches every switch as would a pro wrestler, bouncing off the ropes. Good luck.
Friday night was yet another demonstration of this lineup's late lethality. The final score conveys an easy 12-point victory, but this game was close throughout. Jimmy Butler was excellent, and the Bulls guarded Curry well (9-of-20 for 27 points).
Then, when Golden State needed separation, it arrived quickly. In the final 3 minutes, 58 seconds, the closing lineup outscored Chicago by nine points. And that number doesn't quite convey its success. Players were open on seemingly every offensive possession, most notably on Barnes' final two 3-pointers. Overall this unit outscored the Bulls by 14 in six minutes.
Green refused to reveal any dirt that might beat this killer lineup, saying with a mischievous grin, "I don't know, I'm not trying to give a secret away. That's for them to figure out. We're just going to keep using it." As for why bigger lineups can't counter effectively on offense, Green said, "We scramble around and we ain't no pushovers. Guys ain't going to just punk us because they're bigger. That's what I pride myself on. I enjoy it when they say, 'Ah, they small, let's go inside.' I think that's playing right into our hands."
Eventually, someone, at some time, will outscore the small-ball assault. But on nights like this, it seems just as likely the small-ball lineup will blast a defense into frozen screams like the eruption of Vesuvius. The problem that beat Cleveland in the Finals isn't going away. It's spreading across the league, in the form of a streak.