IPPOLITO: Pippen Oversells 1996 Bulls’ Talent
The Water Cooler

From daily television and radio shows to periodic, subjective top-10 lists, the sports world always creates an abundance of opportunity for discussion and debate. One of the most recent and now frequent hypothetical questions is also increasingly the most bothersome: Who would win a seven-game series between the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors? While this, in and of itself, is a fair and entertaining question to contemplate, Scottie Pippen, a hall of fame member of both Bulls’ dynasties has taken this to the absurd; he recently claimed that the Bulls would sweep Golden State. While it should come as no surprise that Pippen believes his Bulls teams would win, a sweep is a ludicrous assertion.

Before getting into the individual matchups that would define the series between the 1995-96 Bulls and today’s Warriors, it is important to understand what Pippen is really saying, especially in context. For all their greatness, and those 1990s Chicago Bulls teams were undoubtedly great, if not the greatest in NBA history, the Bulls never swept a Western Conference team in the finals. Even the 1995-96 Bulls, who went 72-10 in the regular season, were taken to six games by the Seattle SuperSonics. The Bulls were up three games to nothing in that series but lost games four and five before closing the deal in game six. Even their two years in the finals, both against the Utah Jazz, the Bulls were taken to six games before winning the title.

Therefore, Pippen implies that this Warriors team is worse, perhaps substantially worse, than the Gary Payton-led SuperSonics and the John Stockton-Karl Malone Jazz. That is where the idea of a Bulls sweep becomes laughable. Though the ’90s SuperSonics and Jazz were formidable teams with Hall of Fame talent, they would not beat this year’s Golden State team.

Outside of the NBA Finals, the Bulls routinely dropped a game or two to other Eastern Conference teams like Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers and the Patrick Ewing-led New York Knicks. The Bulls may have always won the series — except during the two-year hiatus of Michael Jordan — but it was not unfathomable for them to lose a game or two in a seven-game series because it happened frequently.

As far as the individual matchups go, this Golden State team has too much depth not to take at least one or two games against the Bulls. At an individual level, the matchups are intriguing. In a matchup between one of the best on-ball defenders of all time against one of the game’s sharpest shooters, Pippen would guard Stephen Curry most of the time and get occasional help from Michael Jordan. While Pippen would do a much better job than a vast majority of current players, he never guarded a shooter with the range and tactile precision like that of Curry. The shots would come from farther away; the ball would move more and faster than it did in the mid ’90s; and Curry would be able to get the better of that matchup, albeit by a slim margin.

The X factor, though, is Draymond Green. While the Bulls’ Dennis Rodman would probably be able to win the battle when Green went into the paint given his ability to dominate the glass for rebounds, the last thing the Bulls would want is to have Rodman out on the perimeter trying to chase Green off the three-point line.

With Jordan primarily guarding Klay Thompson, the Warriors would also have an advantage with Harrison Barnes’s matchup. Ron Harper, a shooting/point guard for the Bulls, is two inches shorter than Barnes and would have been 10 years older than Barnes is now. Barnes is a much better three-point shooter than Harper and is just another weapon Golden State would have on the perimeter against an already-stretched Bulls’ defense.

The beauty of the Warriors’ game plan is that they could concede a great deal to the Bulls on the defensive end and still manage to win because of their ability to make threes and speed up the pace of play. The Warriors play at a nearly 10-percent faster pace, so pace combined with the accuracy from three means the Warriors’ offense could power the team to several victories at a minimum.

Scottie Pippen is a fantastic player, a six-time champion and probably one of the top 25 players in NBA history. But he is wrong that his Bulls would sweep the Warriors. The overall outcome of the series may be up for debate, but consider this aspect closed.

MichaelIppolito_SketchMichael Ippolito is a junior in the College. The Water Cooler appears every Friday.

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