The Last Dance has sparked some old debates such as are the Bulls the best team ever and is Jordan actually the G.O.A.T? But maybe a more interesting debate to have is how would those Bulls teams fare against the elite championship teams of the 2000’s?
For this article I chose 5 teams that have won titles since the year 2000, all off which would either beat the Bulls or have an all time classic series.
The Bulls team we are using for this experiment is the 1995-96 Bulls.
Los Angeles Lakers (2000-01)
Of all the matchups that we will breakdown, this is the one that would keep the Bulls up all night. The only flaw of those iconic Bulls teams was their center position. It never reared its ugly head in a finals matchup, but the Bulls always struggled against elite level centers, just look at what Patrick Ewing was able to do with a weak supporting cast. The Bulls themselves said if Jordan never retired and they ever matched up with Hakeem Olajuwon in the Finals, it would be the toughest matchup they ever had. Personally I think Olajuwon grabs a title if the Rockets and Bulls linked up in a Finals.
Now imagine the Bulls sending Luc Longley, and Bill Wellington out to defend the most dominant center, at his very peak, Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq averaged 30.4 points and 15.4 rebounds per game, on 55% shooting. He recorded back-to-back 40-point, 20-rebound performances in Game 1 and Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. He absolutely destroyed Dikembe Mutumbo in the Finals. The Lakers went 16-1 on their way to the 2001 championship, and when we talk about all time playoff performances, Shaq is near the top of the list.
The Bulls would have to focus all their attention towards slowing down Shaq, but they would realize it is easier said than done. The Lakers leading scorer in 2000-01 was Kobe Bryant. While being at his athletic peak, always making explosive plays, he also had the mindset of Jordan. I like the Shaq-Kobe duo much more than the Jordan-Pippen duo.
Taking a look at the supporting casts, take your pick. The Bulls have the best “third” option in Toni Kukoč and of course Dennis Rodman who’s game speaks for itself. But the Lakers role players are no scrubs. Ron Harper, Horace Grant, and Robert Horry are all veterans with a winning pedigree and bring different skill sets to the game.
This would be an all-time series with just the star value alone, but there are a few decisions that play into my decision to elect a winer. The coaching scenario gets canceled out as Phil Jackson and his triangle offense is in place for both teams. I think Shaq’s presence down low is the deciding factor. If he can hit enough of his free throws, and control the paint, Shaq would be too much for Jordan and company to overcome.
Boston Celtics (2007-08)
The 2007-08 Celtics won 66 games, had the league’s best defense, a hall of fame coach, and of course a hall of fame “Big 3.” These are all components that would help them in a series against the Bulls. Ray Allen’s 3 point shooting is the one thing the Celtics have over the Bulls in this series. You might be thinking about Paul Pierce’s scoring and Kevin Garnett’s intensity. No disrespect to the legends, but Scottie Pippen is shutting Paul Pierce down. As for Garnett, he is the better, more talented PF in the series, but those mind games and intimidation he used would be useless against Dennis Rodman. The two probably get double techs in multiple games, and maybe even thrown out a game.
Taking a look at the other players, it is pretty evenly matched. Once again Toni Kukoč would be the best of the role players. But the Celtics have the advantage at the point guard position with Rajon Rondo. The center position is fairly even with Wellington and Perkins playing the same role. Tony Allen off the bench is a nice defensive irritant to Jordan, much like he was to Kobe in the 2008 Finals.
In the end, the Bulls win this series in likely 5 games. Jordan and Pippen would thrive on both ends in this series. It would be too much for the Celtics to compete with. There might be a personal bias here as these Celtics are the most annoying group of people, acting like they had a dynasty, with their one ring.
Miami Heat (2012-13)
Now when we talk about star power, this is the series that provides the most. The teams were built very similarly, reliant on wing production, short benches, and almost no big present. Jordan-Wade, LeBron-Pippen, Bosh-Toni Kukoč, Rodman-? Point being the matchups this series provides would be unlike any other. It would also provide us with a clear “G.O.A.T” talking point with Jordan and LeBron going head to head in an evenly matched series.
When we talk about peak LeBron, it is hard to determine which season we are talking about. But my money is on 2012-13 LeBron because it combines his peak athleticism with extremely high IQ. On the court, he was extremely efficient shooting 60.2% on two-pointers and 40.6% of threes. Dwayne Wade isn’t at his peak this season, but he is still a 20 point per game scorer in their Finals win. Chris Bosh could perform as a 2nd or 3rd option depending on the matchup. With the talent of the big 3, you can’t count them out in any series they would play in, real or fictional.
But when we are comparing them to maybe the best team ever assembled, flaws that seemed minor become issues. The Miami Heat’s constant struggle during their time with the Big 3 was getting substantial depth. Everyone was either on their last legs, or young late round draft picks. Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller while all one their last legs, were all able to provide necessary clutch outside shooting. I think they can do the same in a series against the Bulls, but maybe not with the same efficiency.
The real flaw for me would be the reliance on young guys like Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole to give you substantial minutes in the rotation. The veteran Bulls played a tough minded game and would certainly abuse the youngsters.
When we look at the Bulls, they match up quite well with Miami. The toughness, mind games and relentlessness of Rodman would eat the Heat alive. The Heat’s biggest advantage during their tile run was that they had 3 all star level players. Well the Bulls had 4 of those caliber players. Pippen and Jordan make it tough on LeBron and Wade to attack the rim, which limits the open three point looks for the role players, causing a domino effect.
The Bulls win the series in 6 games, like the Spurs should have.
San Antonio Spurs (2013-14)
Deciding which championship Spurs team to pick was a tough one. We could have gone with the Duncan-Robinson Twin towers team. Or the 2006-07 team that featured a prime Manu Ginobili and young Tony Parker. But ultimately I went with the 2013-14 Spurs for a couple of reasons.
For starters, this team has Kawhi Leonard. His defensive ability and length would be needed. Sure Manu and Duncan are past their primes, but their ability to take over portions of the game never wavered. The final reason was the depth and play style this team had.
Aside from the Parker-Ginobili-Leonard-Duncan lineup, the Spurs threw well rounded players at you from every direction, all game long. Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, and Patty Mills drained three’s from every part. This would keep the Bulls defenders at home on their man rather than helping the drive penetration by Parker and Ginobili. When they do collapse the defense, there will be a marksmen on the outside ready to drain the three. Even a guy like Boris Diaw, who doesn’t excel in any one thing, would be valuable in this matchup. He would put the Bulls big men in unfamiliar positions on the floor.
While the Spurs are always overlooked, no matter which incarnation we are talking about, their dominance can’t be dismissed. They wiped the floor with the defending champion Miami Heat. The style of basketball the Spurs played with in 2014 would pick apart any defense, no matter how great a defensive unit is.
The only thing preventing me from rolling with the 2013-14 Spurs to beat the Bulls in a hypothetical 7 game series is the individual play of both Jordan and Pippen. Outside of Leonard and to a lesser degree Danny Green, the Spurs have no defensive matchup for the Bulls dynamic duo. Only Tony Parker was an ALL NBA Selection on this Spurs team as they relied more on team play than individual talent.
This would be a competitive series no doubt, but the Bulls individual talent would be too much to contain.
If we could have combined Spurs teams from the past and had a prime Duncan and Ginobili playing with Leonard, then the Spurs would come away victorious. But we can’t so the Bulls win this one.
Golden State Warriors (2016-17)
A common theme throughout this list has been either dynamic duos/trios or deep teams. The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors are a combination of both. They often had a lineup that featured 5 hall of famers, as well as a future hall of fame Head Coach. All things considered the Warriors are the most talented team ever assembled. The Warriors won 67 games and lost just one playoff game on their way to the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Could the Bulls have slowed down the Warriors explosive 3 point shooting to give themselves a chance to win? Maybe. Curry has never been at his best during the finals and always struggles when it comes to physical play. Ron Harper, Pippen and Jordan definitely bring that physical play to the table. Jordan and Pippen could take turns guarding Durant and chasing Klay Thompson off screens, around the court.
Draymond Green has been a poor man Dennis Rodman, or at least he thinks he is that type of player. Rodman would be in the Warriors heads all series and likely have Draymond kicked out a game or two. When the Warriors go to their small ball lineup, the Bulls wouldn’t be worried. Rodman would slide to the 5, Kukoč to the 4, joining Jordan, Pippen and Harper on the court.
But when you take into account the Warriors had Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West off the bench, you realize the Warriors are the deeper and more talented team.
It would be an uphill battle for Jordan and the Bulls to win this series. Everything would have to go right for them, while everything going wrong for the Warriors. With that in mind, the Warriors win this series.