OAKLAND – Protecting their territory and possessions, the Warriors’ Piranha Squad succeeded again. They attacked with frenzied abandon and did not back off until nothing was left except the bare bones of another bewildered opponent.
Once interim coach Luke Walton unleashed the Squad in the fourth quarter Friday night at Oracle Arena, there was nothing Chicago could do. So savage earlier, and so resilient late, the Bulls were swallowed whole like so many previous opponents.
And the Warriors were winners once again, 106-94, for their 14th victory in 14 games this season.
The Squad – the Warriors’ small lineup featuring Draymond Green at center, Harrison Barnes at power forward, Andre Iguodala at small forward and Klay Thompson and Steph Curry at the guards – is simultaneously beautiful and savage.
It is, ultimately, successful.
“It’s a lot of weapons, and everybody can make plays,” said Curry, who scored a team-high 27 points. “We have a good chemistry with that five-man group.”
And while Green coyly declined to cite reasons behind the Squad’s success, Curry was willing to engage the subject.
“Its versatility and understanding of how we’re going to be successful,” he explained. “Being able to rotate quickly on the defensive end. You’ve got to have heart to overcome size differentials in the paint and rebound the basketball. And we know once we get stops, it’s hard to stop us in transition and even in the halfcourt offense with that lineup.”
The Squad plays ferocious defense, manifested Friday in the form of Chicago’s three turnovers and 25-percent shooting over the decisive final five minutes.
And that defense generally leads to gorgeous offense, flowing and free, with any of the five Warriors pulling up for a picturesque 3-pointer, well as the occasional dunk or layup. One night after dropping in 8-of-9 from deep in a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Clippers, the Piranha Squad threw in three treys in the final minutes, one by Curry to take a lead and two by Barnes to finishing the Bulls.
It’s exhilarating for the Warriors and their fans, devastating to opponents.
“Every single night when it comes down and it’s a close game and it’s time to win, no matter how we’ve played, our guys step up,” Walton said. “And they love the moment. They play harder. They make that extra pass. They make that extra rotation.
“When it’s winning time, it’s incredible how good they’ve gotten at locking in and getting the job done.”
The Warriors last season thrived when using the Squad. Through the first month of this season, it’s even better. Green is outfoxing and outshooting big men. Barnes is more consistently hitting clutch shots. Igoudala is creating even more havoc on defense. Curry is, well, even more Curry than before.
“They can play small, they can play big,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “They play together. The ball movement is great. It’s definitely something we can learn from.”
For those Warriors fans wishing for more Piranha Squad, don’t count on it.
It’s kind of like a police department SWAT team or a cardiac surgeon – terrific for specific instances, but hardly appropriate for general situations. Certainly, for the Warriors or any team employing such a group, it’s not sustainable over 48 minutes.
“We know that going small for too long doesn’t work because it takes so much energy to guard bigger players,” Walton said. “So Harrison and Draymond would get tired and eventually it would catch up with us.
“We’re fine. We were going on runs with different lineups out there as well. If we have a chance to try to throw a knockout punch, that’s going to be the lineup we try to do it with.”
They’re doing enough to finish opponents, doing so with five or six good minutes, which is plenty if done right.